Overall thoughts: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“Aarti put her palms together, closed her eyes and asked for help to survive.”
Yes! This is exactly the kind of book I needed in my life and I’m not ashamed to love it as much as I do! An incredibly uplifting story of magic and myth, with the theme of finding where you belong and finding the confidence within yourself. I’m absolutely thrilled to be sharing my review of this stunning book in the month of its release!
About the book
Aarti has lived on the island with Aunt for as long as she can remember.
Like the weather, Aunt rules her world with rare warmth. Aarti’s only comforts are a book of Indian myths full of blue gods, a fox’s friendship, and a toy rabbit she finds in a locked room.
Then, she learns Aunt has been feeding her lies. Fate intervenes when a half-drowned boy washes up on the beach. With his help, Aarti hopes to remember who she really is… and perhaps find a way home.
Read just one page of this book and I guarantee you’ll be enchanted by its beauty! I was quite taken aback when I started reading this, and I didn’t expect a book aimed at a younger audience to have an effect on me as this one did. Straight away, we can feel the magic and we take in such beautiful description, something so poetic that I’ve not experienced much of before. We meet Aarti in the first few pages and experience the life she’s living; after supposedly losing her parents, she’s lived with her Aunt on the island for as long as she can remember, but it isn’t long before we learn of Aunt’s angry and unpredictable ways. She’s a person you wouldn’t want to rub up the wrong way and she certainly wasn’t a person you’d want to disappoint. Aarti has to watch her step so carefully, and reading this even made me hold my breath in parts. Aarti was such a brilliant character to warm to, and how she acts around nature and how she thinks about everything around her was so very intriguing to me.
The description just gets better and better, and I could easily visualise everything that was happening along with the sounds, the sights and the smells. I loved learning more about Chand, Aarti’s pet fox, and just how much this magical animal meant to her. It was easy to feel so settled into Aarti’s world and everything she knew by just how the author puts her readers first. The experience was already one that I was confident would never leave my mind. I also really enjoyed Aarti’s recent feelings of longing for someone that wasn’t there – or were they memories long forgotten? Why was she dreaming about a woman figure and thinking more and more about life away from the island she shared with her Aunt? The story already presents question after question for readers to ponder, and I was so excited to join Aarti on her journey forwards. The opening of the book was a true breath of fresh air and was the perfect escape from reality.
“If Aarti could fly, she wouldn’t hang around here, she’d spread her wings and keep going until she landed somewhere else.”
From learning about a mysterious locked room and Aarti’s secret shrine, to the enchanting blue gods and her Krishna book, the author brings so much enjoyment and magic to the reader, something that is so consistent and exciting throughout each page. There is an interesting bit of culture surrounding everything we read which I liked, and I felt this really gave the book character and helped it to become even more memorable. We follow Aarti’s story through the four seasons, from Winter to Autumn, and watch as more than just the weather changes… The locked room is something I couldn’t stop thinking about, and I was so curious to find out not only why it had been locked for all these years, but also what her Aunt was hiding in there. Could it be dangerous? Could it hold the answer to her past or answer some of Aarti’s questions about her life? This book very quickly became one that I didn’t want to take a break from!
After grabbing an opportunity to venture into the forbidden room, Aarti discovers something strangely familiar; an old toy rabbit that she believes to be hers. I felt we were about to start Aarti’s discovery about her past, and all that excitement began to build up once again. However, on a dangerous venture into the fierce wind and rain, we witness a tragic accident, one that leaves Aarti scared and uncertain about her future. The author’s delivery of this incident was exceptional and filled me with emotions; sadness, worry, panic and even some weird form of relief washed over me as the reality of the situation came to light. From this moment onwards, it was clear Aarti would have to step up, build up her lost confidence and seek the truth she’s wanted for a very long time. The beginning of the book was just fantastic, and I was really surprised by how much I felt invested in its pages. I couldn’t wait for what came next!
As time passes and Aarti further understands the situation she finds herself in, she realises she must leave the island she’s always called home and uncover the secrets of her past. She plans to leave everything that’s currently familiar to her in search for something that was perhaps once familiar, something that she’s craved for so long and something that will hopefully define who she really is. However, before she finds a way off the island, Chand goes missing and there is an unexplained discovery washed up on the shore, something that I found so suspenseful! We’re introduced to Euan, another brilliant character that I instantly warmed to, but what on earth was he doing on the island? And how did he end up getting washed ashore? I loved the elements of mystery at this part in the book and I was confident we’d get some more answers very soon. I was looking forward to seeing how these characters bonded and what they’d experience together.
Aarti shares her favourite book of Indian mythology with her new found friend and explains how she sees the world beyond the island. Their quest to find a boat seems impossible until they find a map of the island, something so exciting which opened up so many possibilities! They planned to venture further than they had yet; finding a way off the island was crucial to not only find safety, but to reunite Euan with his family. The bond between Aarti and Euan soon became a beautiful thing. I loved how curious each of these characters were about the other’s life, and how comfortable they were in each other’s presence. The way they believed in each other and built each other up was so heartwarming and really gave me hope that they’d succeed. And, just when we least expect it, the author gives us even more of a surprise… There was never a dull moment, and every piece of description was just as beautiful and as satisfying as the last.
“Flicking a quick look over her shoulder, Aarti stepped inside the forbidden room. Could this be the answer to her prayer for truth?”
We begin to see a more mysterious side to Euan, and after Aarti wakes one night to find him gone, she gets more than she bargained for when she starts to search. What was he keeping from her? And why was he denying everything about his disappearance that night, even though Aarti had seen him with her own eyes? The story has been developed with so much detail and both Aarti and Euan became two of those characters you become completely invested in. I was so desperate for answers to so many questions at this point in the story, but as the pair both had the same goal and needed to find a way off the island, they’re forced to put their disagreements to one side, at least for now… There was one brilliant scene as they explore the cliffs and caves, and I was very pleasantly surprised by a huge discovery. Were they finally able to move forward on their journey off the island?!
Aarti begins to experience brand new memories about coming to the island with her Aunt. She remembered feelings of sadness and plenty of tears, and learning about these snippets of memories really made things more exciting for me. I found myself trying to draw my own conclusions, trying to build a picture of Aarti’s old life in my mind and think about the reasons she was brought to live on the island in the first place. The author really does have a clever way of opening up your imagination! Everything throughout the book had felt so vivid up to this point, and it just seemed to be getting better and more powerful as time passed. The ending of the book was something I was so eager to experience, and I knew the author wouldn’t let us down. I could sense some more surprises and shocking scenes, and I really had to know if Aarti and Euan managed to escape the island!
My attention was once again fixed on Euan, and how he’d so effortlessly jumped to Aarti’s aid as she accidentally plummets into the sea. What on earth was he keeping from us?! It was clear he had a big secret, but would he be willing to share it with Aarti before they parted ways? I thought more about what Aarti was leaving behind and what would happen to her once they got to the mainland. I loved experiencing their final day on the island before they left and even how Aarti introduced Euan to the Shrine she’d regularly visit when she needed time away from her Aunt. It was easy to feel Aarti’s emotions; how sad she felt about leaving all she knew behind, but the excitement to finally get back to the ‘real’ world. There wasn’t a single moment in this story where I didn’t feel so invested in their journey or feel exactly what they were feeling inside about all the different decisions they’d made. The author’s talent was so consistent and clear!
I knew the author’s delivery of Euan’s truths would be exceptional, and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest! We learn the truth about exactly why Euan washed ashore that day, how Aarti was connected to Euan and even experience some pretty scary and intense scenes for Aarti. I loved how everything was coming together, and even though the book was drawing to a close, I knew there was still so much excitement to come. For a book aimed at a younger audience, this one was unexpectedly becoming a favourite of mine! Things were looking a little uncertain at this point in the story, and with emotions running high, it was unclear whether Aarti would see a life away from the island. Who could she trust? Where was she meant to be in her life? I was rooting for Aarti 110% and I felt desperate to jump into the book’s pages to protect this character!
“She had been so fixed on leaving the island that she hadn’t thought about all the things she’d miss. Chand, the mountains, the way the island looked after her, fed her, blanketed her over with warmth and love.”
Something Euan said earlier in the book about Aarti not knowing what was real and what was in her imagination felt so relevant at this part of the story. I don’t want to give anything away, but even so close to the ending of the story, I was questioning so much. Was everything Aarti had experienced over the years real? I was thinking about how the ending of this story could go even when I wasn’t reading the book, and I still felt like wrapping Aarti in cotton wool and telling her everything would be okay after she goes through some panic and confusion. With her new found acquaintances doing all they can to find out who Aarti is and where her family are, I began to wonder if we’d ever find the information we craved throughout the book, or if the ending of the book would be left on a mysterious cliff hanger. I think I’d be happy with the outcome either way, and just knew the author would nail it!
The ending of the story really got to me! My emotions were all over the place, especially as Aarti felt like my own little friend at this point. We meet some very special people in Aarti’s life, understand much more about what she’s experienced in this time and also get some perfect answers to questions I’d been asking since the very early pages of the book. The author has done an exceptional job of rounding off this story and ensures there’s that ideal balance of closure and unanswered questions to feed the imagination. I loved it! I really appreciated the final short chapter, One Year Later, and the author gives us a final surprise that might just make your eyes leak! I was completely thrilled after finishing the book, and had to spend a few moments with my own thoughts to really appreciate all the work that had been put into it. I’d absolutely love to read this one again, and believe it’s not just for a younger audience. Five huge stars without a doubt, thank you for sharing Aarti’s amazing journey with us, Jasbinder!
This book is exceptional and it certainly won’t be my last read by Jasbinder Bilan! It’s full of heart, and the author weaves such stunning magic and an intriguing and addictive story together with ease. The characters in this book are just delightful, and little Aarti has secured her own special place in my heart. Her journey will be one I’ll remember for a long time! From the way this book touches on different cultures to the beautiful descriptive language, there really is a little something for everyone to enjoy. A beautiful story of self discovery and friendship, which teaches confidence building and overcoming your fears. An amazing reading experience for all ages!
A huge thank you to the author, Jasbinder Bilan, and Chicken House Books for my beautiful copy of this book! You can purchase your own copy of Aarti & The Blue Gods on Amazon, available on Kindle and in paperback (or even order it from your local indie bookshop!) Make sure you’re following the author over on Twitter and Instagram for updates.