Irish and Islamic mythologies collide as teenagers protect a Minnesota creek from hostile magic in this YA novel.
After 14-year-old Wendy Adair’s father dies in Iraq, her brother is arrested and her unreliable mother leaves for parts unknown. Wendy moves in with her Aunt Mary, Uncle Craig, and 14-year-old cousin Ben Preston, a nerdy boy who’s obsessed with a recent news event: A mysterious vandal has left 100 dead mussels in Minnehaha Creek. Ben is reluctant to let Wendy into his investigation, but then she meets a number of fantasy creatures, including a very attractive kelpie and two genies. Ben’s friends include Marion Werling, a socially awkward robotics aficionado, and Oliver, a Middle Eastern biology expert with a misogynistic streak; together, the boys make up the River Rangers, a team that’s dedicated to protecting Minnehaha Creek from malevolent supernatural beings. Through Oliver’s knowledge of Islamic legends, the Rangers infer that the genies are searching for a set of perfect, immensely valuable pearls. But Wendy soon realizes that they aren’t just focused on that item—they’re also looking for her. This environmentalist tale is peppered with likable magical creatures, including the charming, morally gray kelpie Cathal Corkin. Debut author Faust’s blending of Islamic and Irish traditions will leave many readers wanting to learn more about this fantasy world. However, Wendy’s feelings about her family situation are given only surface treatment, leaving her feeling underdeveloped as a character. Her constant dismissal of nerdiness and computer know-how also feels out of place for a modern teenager. In addition, the novel sometimes presents problematic stereotypes of the Middle East; for example, narrator Wendy instantly dislikes Oliver due to “some family history,” because her mother “mistrusted all Arabs or Mideasterns or whatever, claiming they were all terrorists”—a clumsy and uncomfortable take.
A memorable fantasy world hampered by sketchily drawn characters and stereotypical elements.