Silverworld – Diana Abu-Jaber

  Silverworld – Diana Abu-Jaber.  Crown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 9780553509670

Format: Hardcover

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3.5

Genre:  Fantasy

What did you like about the book?  12-year-old Sami has seen a lot of changes in her young life.  Her father passed away when she was little, and her family has recently moved from New York to Florida and she is having a hard time adjusting.  She lives with her mother, Alia, her older brother Tony, and her grandmother, whom she calls Teta.  She has always had a close bond with Teta, and grew up listening to stories about Teta’s childhood in Lebanon as well as folk stories about the Ifrit – mystical creatures including mermaids, fairies and the like who inhabit Silverworld, a parallel universe that Teta paints so clearly in her storytelling that Sami believes it is real.  When Teta begins to show signs of dementia and Sami’s mother is considering putting her into a nursing home, Sami becomes convinced that Teta is in fact under a spell from Silverworld, and is determined to find her way there to save her grandmother.

Using an old spell book and a mirror that has traveled with Teta from Lebanon, Sami does arrive in Silverworld.  Inhabited by Flickers (the creatures who reflect back when an ‘Actual’ looks into a mirror) and Shadows, the land is under threat from the Shadow Queen Nixie, who has captured most of the Shadows and Ifrit to gain strength. Sami knows that if she can defeat the Nixie, she will save not only her new friends in Silverworld, but also her grandmother.  Accompanied by Flickers Dorsom and Natala, and a Shadow shapeshifter named Bat, and with guidance from Rotifer, a mysterious and powerful sea creature, Sami goes on a quest to find and defeat Nixie before it is too late.  In the process she learns a lot about her family’s history and her own inner strength.

Steeped in Lebanese culture – although it is unclear if the fantasy was based on Lebanese mythology or folklore, or mostly invented by the author – Silverworld focuses on identity and self-reliance in both settings.  Sami struggles to hold onto her own past and her grandmother’s history all while trying to fit in in her new hometown, and seeks to find a balance between light and dark when she travels to the magical world.  The real charm of the book is in the vividity of Silverworld.  Readers may need to borrow a color wheel to identify the many shades – of skin tones, hair color, even the air and water – named throughout Sami’s adventures.  Despite these colorful descriptions, however, the world is hard to picture, and the adventure falls a bit flat.

Anything you didn’t like about it?  I would have enjoyed reading more of Teta’s stories verbatim rather than through Sami’s recollections about the stories.  (Maybe even as an appendix to the book.)

To whom would you recommend this book?  This light fantasy might be appreciated by readers waiting for the next installment in favorite series in the ‘Rick Riordan Presents’ stable…not anywhere near as much cultural information or action, but a fun enough adventure.

Who should buy this book?  Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it? Fantasy

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? no

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State:  Leigh King, School Librarian, Lincoln Street Elementary School, Northborough, Massachusetts

Date of review:  6/22/2020

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