Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans by Isi Hendrix – at a glance
The School Reading Lists’ five word review: Determination, Deities, Fantasy, Identity, Culture.
Children’s book title: Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans.
Children’s author: Isi Hendrix.
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy.
Published by: Usborne.
Recommended for children aged: 9-12 year-olds.
First published: Paperback September 2023.
This children’s book is ideal for: Exploring the effect expectations both familial and cultural have on upbringing, feelings of self-worth, and belonging.
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Adia Kelbara is in possession of a very important piece of paper, it gives her an escape, at least for a year, as she goes on prearranged work experience. Her aunt has no idea how old her niece is but once she discovers the placement is in an institution she considers evil arguments ensue only stopped by a disaster of life-changing proportions.
Fleeing her village, Adia travels to the Academy of Shamans where she hopes to hide away and learn a trade in the school’s kitchens and discover what evil possesses her. Changes are happening deep inside Adia as well as to the world around her and hiding is never going to be an option as she finds herself targeted by those she now serves.
Seeking solace in an abandoned library the chance to discover what is going on is dangled enticingly in front of her and soon Adia is travelling to places she thought only existed in nightmares, where the truth behind legend is laid bare. Befriended by a deity on a deadline, a sycophantic member of the feared military unit the Gold Hats, and a warrior fighting to save her world from destruction, Adia realises she is, finally, no longer alone.
Joining forces with her new friends to hunt a rogue deity determined to complete his aeons-old quest, no matter the cost, seems incredible to Adia but helps her begin to make sense of things. Having travelled full circle, making surprising choices and discoveries along the way, will it all be for nought or will she finally realise her destiny has always been in her own hands?
This is an exceptional read. Adia is a brilliant main protagonist who leaps off the page and the book itself is so good it would be very easy to gush extravagantly about it and ruin all the surprises! I read a lot of middle-grade literature and I think everyone who reads this amazing and empowering story will, like me, be waiting impatiently for book two.
Adia Kelbara is a mixed-up, unhappy, twelve-year-old, living in the area of her world known as the Swamplands. Since her mother’s demise she has lived with her aunt and uncle and their two sons. Since her eldest cousin, and only ally, EJ, died the previous year she has been left at the mercy of her unpleasant relatives and the strict new religious regime they follow.
Twelve is an important age in Adia’s culture, heralding the beginning of the journey into adulthood via work placements and the taking of a communion which results in blind devotion due to its drug like qualities. Adia’s resistance to what is expected of her sets off a series of events which lead to her eventually understanding and liking herself far more than she thought possible.
These discoveries have parallels across many continents and cultures as the downtrodden, the ashamed, and the misunderstood, have begun to fight against these injustices. A quote by the late Desmond Tutu at the beginning of the book encapsulates the religious part of the storyline perfectly and resonates throughout as do the cultural similarities between our world and Adia’s.
The hiding away of some members of society, the ogbanje of the Igbo tribe, of whom Isi Hendrix is a descendant, are treated in a similar way to those with hereditary illnesses or mental health disorders were in the UK until distressingly recently. That Adia is considered in this way by her uncle is proved to be more ridiculous as each page turns and her heritage is revealed.
Adia is neglected by her family, shown by her aunt thinking the twelve-year-old was only nine, while her uncle, who thinks she is ogbanje, takes her to the optician just the once so her glasses are no longer fit for purpose. Her unpleasant cousin has also been stealing her lunches since the death of his elder brother, with her resulting malnourished appearance not being noticed.
There are serious messages within this excellent story, including the stigma of not being considered good or strong enough in the eyes of those who should protect them, and the racist comments from peers and elders alike. The damage done as they struggle to find the strength required to face such challenges head-on is explored through Adia’s eyes and it’s not pretty.
The author has also created a fully formed world for Adia to live in and never once did I fail to imagine the landscape, beauty, or destruction contained therein. All the locations work, but if you get a bit disoriented there is a map to help you on your way.
This book is alive with discussion points some serious, others, such as the grumpiness of a building, not so much, but all lead towards an eminently satisfying conclusion that leaves the reader wanting more.
Many thanks to Usborne for the review copy.
If you like Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans by Isi Hendrix you might also like: our reviews of One Chance Dance by Efua Traoré, Antigua de Fortune of the High Seas by Anna Rainbow and Oli Hyatt, The Thief of Farrowfell by Ravena Guron, Growing Up Powerful by Nona Willis Aronowitz, Corey’s Rock by Sita Brahmachari and Last Girl In by Cheryl Diane Parkinson.
Browse our list of books for year 5.