Welcome back to the blog everyone! Featuring diverse voices has always been something I’m passionate about and one of these books with a brown cast and setting is In My Hands by Sathya Achia. With a bold cover and intriguing premise, In My Hands is a recently released debut that you need to pick up soon. And I’m so lucky to be having author Sathya Achia today, as I interview her about her debut!
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!
Sixteen-year-old Chandra S. Chengappa had hoped she could pass for the average American teenager by stocking store shelves at her mother’s Ayurveda shop, being a competitive dancer, and avoiding her bullies like the plague. But she has a monster of a secret: She can see evil in the form of the rakshasi—a demon that is supposed to exist only in South Asian folklore.
After discovering a glowing disc hidden among a collection of ancient Indian artifacts in her mother’s yoga studio, Chandra starts to have strange visions of a past she cannot remember, and a future she wants no part of. She soon realizes that the ruthless rakshasi is near and wants what she has—a map hidden in the scars of her disfigured hands that leads to the Golden Trishula—a powerful, celestial weapon that was once wielded by the Hindu Goddess Durga,that controls the past, present, and future.
When tragedy strikes, Chandra and her sister must leave their small Virginia town and go live with a family friend in a remote jungle village in India that has been devastated by the rakshasi. With the help of a cunning fortune teller, a fashion-forward Lambadi historian, a handsome daredevil, and a kind-hearted cow herder—Chandra must forge ahead into the unknown and prepare for the fight of her life to destroy the evil before the people and the jungle she has fallen in love with are plunged into a supernatural darkness forever.
Q: Hello Sathya, thank you so much for taking your time to be present on my blog today! Could you mind telling us a little bit about yourself and your debut, In My Hands, for the people who aren’t aware?
Thanks for having me here! I’m Sathya and I write fiction for YA, MG, and PB readers. I was born and raised in Ontario, Canada, to parents who had emigrated from South India. Storytelling has always been a big part of who I am. I’ve been in the communications field more than 20 years, having worked as a journalist, and healthcare public relations, and advertising. When I’m not working or creating stories, you’ll find me outdoors, traveling, or doing yoga.
In My Hands, is my debut YA fantasy-adventure novel, which can be described as a mashup between Tomb Raider and Wonder Woman and inspired by South Asian mythology, about sixteen-year-old Chandra Chengappa who can see evil in the form of a rakshasi—a she-demon. After the mysterious death of her mother, Chandra is forced to leave small-town Virginia and head for the jungles of India where she must find the celestial weapon of a goddess and face the rakshasi hell-bent on destroying her…or she risks losing everyone she loves.
Q: Your work is said to be inspired by the Kodava culture. Kodagu is such a beautiful place and the culture even so! Can you share anything specific from your debut that was inspired by your love for the Kodava culture?
My family is from Kodagu. I was inspired by the many summers I spent there visiting my grandparents and family. For those not familiar, Kodagu is a remote region of rolling hills and lush rainforests. My grandparents lived on a coffee plantation at the edge of all this breathtaking, magical beauty—and as a child, it was truly a wonderland for my cousins, brother, and I. There was adventure at every turn!
Through my debut, I wanted to preserve those moments—capture those elements and write this love letter to my grandparents, my culture, and my heritage—in the most fantastical way. So, I wove and layered these pieces of heart and culture into my story. For example, the magic system of the Lambadi that I created is a system of earth magic drawn from my imagination, because as Kodavas, we worship nature, the River Kaveri, and our ancestors. During the harvest, Kodavas celebrate the beginning of the season with a festival—we give offerings to the River Kaveri, we dance, we beat drums, we sing. These ideas and elements are present in the story itself.
Q: Chandra sounds like a compelling protagonist! What inspired you to write her, is there anyone/anything that made her the way she is?
With Chandra, I always knew I wanted the protagonist to be a fierce, brown girl being her own hero and leading the charge—she was the character my teenage-self wanted as a kid, but never saw in the books I read back then.
Chandra is complex. Deep down, she’s just a girl who wants desperately to be loved and accepted by her mother, sister, peers, and simply exist as a regular teenager—but she’s a girl who can see the rakshasi—a powerful, blood-thirsty she-demon. Because of her ability to see this monster, she feels cursed and different and, not deserving of love or happiness. To cope, she’s built walls up around her to protect her head and heart. She also lost her father to the rakshasi and witnessed the attack firsthand, so she is dealing with significant trauma that nobody else can understand because she was the only one who saw what happened. Chandra tries to play tough; she is stubborn and difficult and doesn’t want others to that she is vulnerable.
I like to think that Chandra’s story has universal appeal. As human beings, we all crave a sense of belonging and an understanding of who we are—this is what Chandra seeks whether she knows it or not. The story, at its core, is about learning to love even the hard-to-love parts of ourselves—self-acceptance is a tough beast to manage. We’ve got to come to terms with our good, our bad, and our ugly.
Q: You speak of people like you and many others out there—of two worlds and cultures. How did you manage to incorporate this into In My Hands and what’s your favourite aspect of how it’s turned out?
Chandra’s story starts in a small US town where we catch a glimpse of her life with her mother, who was raised in India. While Chandra is a girl living in the West, her mother keeps her very much connected to her Eastern roots in big and subtle ways. I wanted to show this blending of her cultures and how she tries to embrace both, and her struggles to fit in. I loved dropping in little pop culture references, pizza cravings, and describing South Indian cuisine (I’m making myself hungry now!) and fashion. I enjoyed showing this contrast between the world Chandra knows and the one she enters, and her reactions to all of it.
Q: There are a growing amount of South Asian voices out in the world that are coming into light, all with unique forms of culture and representation. What would be your advice to all the young writers who hope to achieve their dreams one day?
My advice would be to use your unique voice and tell the story of your heart. I’m a firm believer in writing what you know and writing with authenticity—your heart, your experiences. Writing from a place that’s true will pull your voice through. How you see something, how you experience a moment, how you’re exposed to it—these are all unique to you and that will help drive your readers into believing in the stories and characters you create. It’s extremely scary to put yourself out there and share your work with the world, but it can also be tremendously rewarding.
Q: Last but not the least, is there anything you hope readers take away from your novel?
When I was a kid reading books, I missed seeing the kids like me who celebrated traditions and festivals of their parents’ homelands, but also just wanted to hang out with their friends at the local hotspots. I wanted to belong to both worlds, but I didn’t really have anything to model it after. I didn’t see it in the media I consumed, and I didn’t see it in the books I was constantly reading.
So, now, especially now, with kids of my own, I wanted to change that. I wanted to show South Asian kids in a way they haven’t been seen before—being their own heroes, busting stereotypes, no longer the sidekicks in someone else’s story. This time, they would lead the charge, find their own magic, and become comfortable in their own skin.
I hope readers have fun with this book. I hope they enjoy the adventure and I hope they connect with the universal themes of belonging, identity, and self-acceptance.
To see a kid like yourself off on a fantastical adventure is a powerful thing. It shows you that you matter and your story matters. It makes all the difference!
about the author
Sathya Achia is a South Asian American/Canadian author who creates diverse stories of adventure and discovery for picture book, middle grade, and young adult readers. Her debut novel, In My Hands, a contemporary YA fantasy-adventure, was published by Ravens & Roses Publishing in August 2022.