VOYA - Joyce Yen
The magical tale of Shahrazad comes to life again; however, this time the legendary queen who told stories to the Sultan each night in order to save her life seeks help from another. Marjan, a thirteen-year-old crippled girl who loves to tell stories, accompanies her aunt into the Sultan's harem one day and her life is changed dramatically. Shahrazad's sister, Dunyazad, overhears Marjan telling a story to the children and takes her to Shahrazad. Marjan's story is one Shahrazad has not told the Sultan, and he loves it. The Sultan recognizes the story from his childhood and asks for the second half-but unfortunately, Marjan only knows the first half. Her adventures take off as she, Shahrazad, and Dunyazad track down the keeper of the story, a blind storyteller whom Marjan encountered at the bazaar.
This is more than just another account of Shahrazad's legend; Marjan learns her own life story and strengths. She is a wounded child, physically and spiritually, and her experiences in the harem and with Shahrazad and her search for the missing tale help Marjan heal. Each chapter begins with "Lessons for Life and Storytelling," which are echoed in that chapter. Marjan grows stronger as she learns each new life lesson. As the story progresses, the reader becomes more invested in the fate of Marjan and, consequently, the fate of Shahrazad and all young women and girls in the sultanate. Well written and engaging, young readers will enjoy this tale and perhaps may even take some of the "Lessons for Life and Storytelling" for themselves.
VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P M (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Broad general YA appeal, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8).
Children's Literature - Gisela Jernigan
Young Marjan's adopted Auntie Chava despairs of her ever finding a suitable husband, because of her maimed foot and fascination with stories and storytelling, which often distracts her from her everyday duties. But soon after the beginning of this rich and appealing young adult novel, Marjan must use her wide knowledge of stories to come to the aid of the Sultan's latest wife, Shahrazad, who is about to run out of stories and therefore lose her life. The color and romance of a harem in old Persia is very convincingly recreated in this page-turning tale of danger, intrigue, betrayal and love, and Marjan is a very appealing and believable protagonist. Each chapter begins with an intriguing "Lesson for Life and Storytelling," and an author's note explains how the novel is based on the classic "Thousand and One Nights."
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9Marjan, a young storyteller in ancient Persia, inadvertently takes a new story to Shahrazad. The Queen has been entertaining her husband for nearly 1000 nights and she's growing desperate. The Sultan loves the tale, which he vaguely remembers from his childhood, but requests the ending. Shahrazad makes the girl a part of the harem in order to get it, but learns that she has told all that she knows. Marjan leaves the harem, a dangerous move indeed, and tracks down an old man at the bazaar who was the source. She makes some surprising connections between the outside world and the harem and, in a final face to face with the Sultan, reveals much about herself, the power of story, and the grace of redemption. There are no weak spots in the telling of this tale. Even the minor characters make real impressions. The voices are clear and the dialogue works beautifully. As strong as these points are, it is the structure that really makes this book sing. Everything is carefully laid out for readers in a measured fashion that keeps the pages turning. The "Lessons for Life and Storytelling" that open each chapter boldly state the truths any storyteller knows and are echoed in the narrative. Marjan's crippled foot perfectly mirrors the Sultan's crippled trust. In both of their cases, it is a story that breaks through the flinty walls around their hearts. After much tension and adventure, there are believable, happy endings all around. An elegantly written novel that will delight and entertain even as it teaches, just as any good tale does.Patricia A. Dollisch, DeKalb County Public Library, Decatur, GA
NY Times Book Review
Here's an engrossing retelling of a familiar but exotic tale set inside a harem. Shahrazad, the Sultan's present wife, tells him a different story every night. The narrator is Marjan, her clubfooted servant and a fine storyteller herself.
Horn Book Magazine
Surely, the most famous storyteller of all time is Scheherazade (or, as Susan Fletcher renders the spelling, Sharazad), whose tales became the foundation for the popularly titled Arabian Nights. But just how did she acquire this vast repertoire? Fletcher offers a plausible explanation in a suspenseful first-person novel in which Marjan, an orphan crippled by a cruel mischance, becomes involved in palace politics as a handmaiden to the fabled princess and as a discoverer of new stories, thus becoming one source for some of the thousand and one tales used by Sharazad to save her life. The style, in its re-creation of life in a Persian harem and city, is descriptive but not lush, advantageously restrained. Although the dialogue sometimes suggests modern sensibilities in observations on the fate of women or in phrases such as "we'll sort this through," the author makes no claims for complete verisimilitude, indicating in an appended note the extent of her reliance on Burton's edition of the tales. Fletcher puts her own spin on the source material, telling a tale in which the pace is consistent, the characters interesting, and the plot impelling. The conclusion is particularly notable for its avoidance of implausible senti-mentality: it is a hopeful rather than a conventional "happy ending." Equally notable are the boxed "Lessons for Life and Storytelling" that precede each chapter. Not only do they serve as links between plot elements, they are also shrewd observations on the potential of language and literature to effect change. As Marjan comments in one of these, "Words are how the powerless can have power."
A young girl, Marjan, rescues the fabled Shahrazad from the Sultan's wrath in this exciting and thought-provoking novel from Fletcher (Flight of the Dragon Kyn, 1993, etc.). With her crippled foot, Marjan never expects to be dragged off to the palace, but that is what happens after a chance meeting with Shahrazadþthe storyteller who wins her life each night with cliffhanging stories for the sultan, and who obtains a story from Marjan. Heartbroken at leaving her Aunt Chava and her Uncle Eli, Marjan confronts cruelty within the palace's lush interior, where wives and concubines can be executed at the sultan's whim, and where the Khatun, the sultan's mother, spies on everyone. Dispatched by Shahrazad to find more stories, Marjan sneaks out into the marketplace, where she eventually finds an old storyteller who tells her the end of a story of which the sultan has become fond. Beaten and imprisoned by the Khatun, Marjan escapes the palace, only to return and tell the sultan an allegory that enables him to realize his love for Shahrazad, and to spare her life. Despite the licenses Fletcher takes with the story of Shahrazad, the novel may entice readers into the pages of Richard Burton's far richer work; they will appreciate the power of storytellingþthat it may expand the soul of even the most hardened listener. (Fiction. 12-14)