Hamra and the Jungle of Memories

HarperCollins. Mar. 2023. 400p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780063207950.
Gr 3-6–Alkaf brings Malaysian folklore into the modern day through this quest of Hamra, a girl just turning 13 who lives on the edge of the Langkawi jungle. The jungle can be dangerous, and so there are six rules her family has taught her about entering (such as asking permission and never taking what’s not yours). On her birthday, in an angry tantrum, Hamra purposely disobeys all the rules and takes a magical fruit home to give to Opah who is suffering from dementia. The fruit seemingly cures Opah, but at what cost? This event prompts a magical journey that Hamra must go on to fix the consequences of her disrespect to the enchanted jungle. Hamra, with her neighbor and friend Ilyas and the ambiguous weretiger Pak Belang, set out through the jungle into the realm of fae and creatures, some helpful and some harmful. While making deals with magical favors, Hamra learns lessons about family and friendship. The COVID-19 pandemic and its global effects are also mentioned throughout the story, as Hamra’s frustration is driven by the lockdown and her parents’ stressful work on the front lines. During the journey, they question what it means to be human, what happens to those who are not the hero of the story, and what it means to pay debts and take care of your community. Alkaf also uses family events to bring the story full circle. The reluctant hero Hamra will appeal to young and older readers alike, and the action will keep tweens engaged.
VERDICT A welcome addition to libraries that serve children and tweens. This fresh take on Little Red Riding Hood is a necessary purchase for libraries and fantasy shelves.

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