Inspired by the author's travels to Peru, Ellis's coming-of-age tale follows the small but significant story of 12-year-old Incan girl named Micay, who is shunned by her community because of "the deep scar that ran like a river from my right eye down my cheek to my lip and lowered my mouth in a permanent half frown." That changes, however, when a "jungle stranger" comes to town and gives her a scruffy baby macaw named Sumac Huanacauri ("Handsome Rainbow"), who protects her from her tormentor Ucho's cruelty and teaches her to free herself from doubt, as well as accept that she may be destined for a greater purpose. Micay leaves her "wasi" (one-room home) to explore and study with Paqo, a "mighty shaman" from Cuzco. Micay's intimate narration weaves in Quechua vocabulary and abundant references to Incan folklore, enhancing the novel's vivid sense of time and place. Despite the element of shamanism and Micay's communication with spirits, her transformation is subtle and pragmatic as she evolves from fearful outsider to empowered individual. Ages 9–12. (June)
From the Publisher
"The Incan empire's four-century ascendance has inspired plenty of nonfiction and over-the-top fantasy but perplexingly little historical fiction for kids. This recommended title can help fill that void."
"This quiet, deeply moving story reminds readers of the true nature of beauty."
"Micay's intimate narration weaves in Quechua vocabulary and abundant references to Incan folklore, enhancing the novel's vivid sense of time and place."
"A gripping story of a girl who transforms from a cowed outcast into a confident leader, this will find an audience among tweens and teens beginning to question what fate has in store for them."
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Children's Literature - Peg Glisson
Twelve-year-old Micay (which means “Beautiful Round Face” Quechuan) has been called Millay (“Ugly One”) by the people in her Incan village for years because of the “deep scar that ran like a river” from her right eye to her lip. Cruelly taunted by the boys, she has taken to covering her face with her hair and living on the edges, often retreating to her special rock above the village. A jungle stranger on his way to Sacred Sun City (Machu Picchu) gives her an odd gift, a scruffy macaw called Sumac Huanacauri (“Handsome Rainbow”). Caring for Sumac gradually helps Micay emerge from her shell. One day, Sumac leads her to the Paqo, a “mighty shaman” who mysteriously arrived in their village a while back.There, she begins to study the healing arts. The extended drought in her region and her deep desire for her scar’s removal lead Micay to journey to the Sacred City, where her true destiny is revealed. Micay tells her story in rather formal prose, appropriate for the storyteller she has become. The formality does not diminish Micay’s suffering and humiliation; it actually accentuates her pain. She uses her Uncle Turu’s stories to help explain the Incan history and beliefs necessary to better understand the story and its setting. Although set thousands of years ago, the story involves timeless themes of bullying, doubt, and discovery. A slight bit of fantasy (conversing and traveling with the spirits primarily) is mixed with with the historical fiction, but it does not detract from the overall plot. Micay’s tale will resonate with tweens. Teachers whose coursework includes ancient cultures will welcome this book as well. Reviewer: Peg Glisson; Ages 10 to 14.
Micay's name means "Beautiful Round Face" in Quechua, but her disfiguring facial scar has earned her the nickname Millay, "Ugly One," from bullies in her Incan village. Fleeing to her special rock, she hides behind her long hair, but the taunts persist. Having a beautiful sister compounds her misery. When a stranger traveling to the Sacred Sun City (Machu Picchu) gives her a fledgling macaw, Micay emerges from her defensive shell. The bird she's named Sumac, "Handsome," becomes her companion and protector, leading her to the Paqo (village shaman), who takes her on as his apprentice. The Paqo is a mystery: Why did he forsake his powerful position in Cuzco for a humble village? He trains Micay in the healing arts, bringing her to an assembly of shamans seeking to end the relentless drought afflicting the empire. Despite their sacrifices and pleas to the gods, the drought worsens, and Micay fears the Paqo may be driven from the village. Though fantasy elements exist, the novel strives for historical accuracy. Micay's an appealing, if subdued, protagonist, and the rich cultural and physical setting trumps the somewhat derivative plot. The Incan empire's four-century ascendance has inspired plenty of nonfiction and over-the-top fantasy but perplexingly little historical fiction for kids. This recommended title can help fill that void. (glossary, author's note) (Historical fiction. 9-12)