South Asian Spotlight —Payal Doshi recommends Middle Grade Fantasy Books

I’m back, people—and with a brand new post! Middle grade fantasy is a genre that I’ve been loving recently and what better way to rekindle the joy in reading about children than a post about Desi middle grade books? From Aru Shah to Kiki Kallira and counting, a huge amount of books span the genre and they’re all so good!

Rea and the Blood of Nectar is one such book by the author Payal Doshi who I’m so excited to be having here today. For the post, Payal Doshi will be talking about diversity in middle grade books and also recommending so many wonderful books that feature Desi representation, so check it out!

This October, the blog is featuring many voices from the South Asian community, so if you seem to have missed out on the previous posts, check out South Asian Spotlight!

South Asian Representation in Middle Grade

As kid from India in the nineties, I grew up on a healthy diet of Enid Blyton books from age 8! I read all kinds of books from mysteries like The Secret Seven and The Famous Five to the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series in my early teens to books featuring strong and incredible girls from Anne of Green Gables, The Mallory Towers, What Katy Did and of course Sweet Valley High! But my truest escape came when I read fantasy books—The Magic Faraway Tree, The Chronicles of Narnia, His Dark Materials, Harry Potter.

I didn’t realize it then or even in my late teens that none of these books I’d read had any Indian characters in them. Let alone main characters. They were always white kids who lived in the West—the U.K., the U.S., Canada. And though some of my most cherished books and characters are the ones I read as a kid, I hadn’t realized how much of that experience had whitewashed my own thinking. When I sat to write my debut novel, Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, at 23 years of age, I wrote the first draft, all 70,000 words of it with white characters who lived in a fictional town in England. Rea Chettri was Rose Bennett, her twin brother Rohan was Bryant, and their parents were John and Hyacinth Bennett.

Yup.

Not once in the nine months that I drafted the book did I wonder why I wasn’t writing about my lived experience, the country I grew up in, the friends I had, or the Indian culture I was rooted in. Only when a writing teacher in Mumbai brought it up, in abject disappointment no less (it was obvious she had seen this far too many times in her classes), did it strike me like a punch to the gut.

Since that day, I swore to write books where Indian and South Asian kids got to see themselves as important and incredible main characters. Those that go on adventures, wield magic, save realms, and are proud of who they are and where they come from.

Let us not forget, the South Asian population in the world is 2 billion strong! We are NOT a minority. We are grossly underrepresented, and have much to do in ensuring more South Asian representation in books, especially joyful books. These fantasy books with South Asian protagonists mentioned below are slowly but steadily doing their part to increase South Asian representation in middle grade fantasy books around the world. Though these numbers are still very small, it is a true joy to see the canon growing.

I hope you love and enjoy these books as much as I did and be sure to spread the word!

Book Recommendations

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

goodreads

The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani Dasgupta

goodreads

Force of Fire by Sayantani Dasgupta

goodreads

The Chaos Monster by Sayantani Dasgupta

goodreads

Nura and the Immortal Palace by M. T. Khan

goodreads

Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna

goodreads

Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds by Samira Ahmed

goodreads

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel by Sheela Chari

goodreads

The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

goodreads

The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda

goodreads

City of the Plague God by Sarwat Chadda

goodreads

Rea and the Blood of Nectar by Payal Doshi

goodreads

about the author

Payal Doshi has a Master’s in Creative Writing (Fiction) from The New School, New York. Having lived in the UK and US, she noticed a lack of Indian protagonists in global children’s fiction and one day wrote the opening paragraph to what would become her first children’s novel. She was born and raised in Mumbai, India, and currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband and four-year-old daughter. When she isn’t writing or spending time with her family, you can find her nose deep in a book with a cup of coffee or daydreaming of fantasy realms to send her characters off into. She loves the smell of old, yellowed books. Her debut middle grade fantasy novel, Rea and the Blood of the Nectar is the recipient of the IPPY Gold Award. Her young adult short story will be published in the forthcoming YA Anthology, My Big, Fat, Desi Wedding by Page Street Kids in Spring 2023.

THANK YOU FOR READING!

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