Book Review: Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly

“‘There are two kinds of children,’ Ellseth said. ‘Those who delight in stories and those who are too afraid to listen.  He lifted his head and leaned toward Lalani.  The chair creaked beneath him. ‘Do you delight in stories?’”

I am always on the lookout for fiction by Pin@ys and Latinas, and I was overjoyed to find this book Lalani of the Distant Sea at my local library on display.  Published in 2019 and full of pre-filipinx mythologies, this story leans into the mundane and makes it magic.

The main character, Lalani, is a curious child that simply seeks to help her mother and community. Her friend, Veyda, is a plant-based healer. Her mother is a mender, a seamstress. Her world, an island called Sanlagita, ruled by an abusive and patriarchal shaman with a tyranny that pervades their community. 

One day, Lalani ventures onto Mount Kahna to save an animal friend.  However, Mount Kahna is forbidden to the villagers.  Of course, this rule is enforced by generational monster stories.  However, Lalani is “an ordinary child, “ we learn, and her story begins as she finally makes her way up the mountain and then to the otherworldly Isa island and its Whenbo Forest. 

Along the way, Lalani encounters horned Mindorens, Mother Nalupai, Fei Diwata, Ditasa-Ulod, and many other archetypal characters of pre-filipinx culture. You can’t wait to meet them. 

As I read, I heard the author Erin Entrada Kelly asking us: what is our part in this story? Where must we be brave? And, of course, do we delight in stories?  Do check this story out! 

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