Alfageeh, Sara, and Nadia Shammas. Squire. Quill Tree Books, 2022. 978-0-062-94585-3. 336 p. $21.99. Grades 7-10.
As an Ornu, Aiza exists on the outskirts of the Bayt-Sajji empire. Her parents are content with their simple but restricted life, while Aiza longs for adventures beyond the borders of the Ornus’ designated community. Opportunity arrives with an announcement that the Bayt-Sajji military is expanding its ranks, offering successful recruits the position of Squire and full citizenship in the Empire. Aiza’s parents reluctantly agree to let her enlist, but ask that she hide her Ornu markings for her own protection. Recruitment involves intense physical training, history lessons, sparring, military strategy, and a general who rules with an iron fist. Aiza’s scrappiness, zeal, and big personality serve her well in training (not so much in history lessons). With the help of a few key allies, she makes steady progress. When Ornu rebels ambush Aiza’s patrol group, secrets and betrayals come to light and everyone must choose a side. Themes of heroism, loyalty, and identity are depicted through bold artwork with plenty of swordplay and action sequences. The author/illustrator team of Nadia Shammas and Sara Alfageeh include a must-read “Making of a Page” section that has insights into the script, artistic inspiration, and more.
THOUGHTS: Squire is a fast-paced read with depth, and the creators leave the door open for follow-up installments. It is a must-read for fans of Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series.
Ochieng, Patrick. Playing a Dangerous Game. Norton Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-01913-8. $17.95 186 p. Grades 5-8.
A coming-of-age young adult novel by a skilled Kenyan author, this book offers a glimpse into the life of Kenyan boys in the 1970s. Lumush and his family are doing quite well after his father gets a promotion at his job, but the teenager is understandably worried about changing schools and still being able to relate to his long-time neighborhood friends. As Lumush and his friends hang around after school each day, talking and playing small pranks and games, they eventually work up the nerve to explore a nearby abandoned house that many people think is haunted. What the group find during their explorations is more than they bargained for, and they are caught in the middle of a dangerous, and perhaps murderous, illegal smuggling operation.
THOUGHTS: Mystery, adventure, friendship and personal growth are all major elements of this unique novel. Lumush’s life, including his family, his friends, and his school troubles, are described in rich detail. This book offers a fascinating peek into the lives of Kenyans during the 1970s; although politics and economics are mostly mentioned in passing by adults in Lumush’s life, students with an interest in Kenyan history could use this novel as a way to contextualize the facts found in traditional history books.