Tenjat lives on the shores of Hell, an ocean filled with ravenous naga monsters. His island, a massive Turtle, is slowed by the people living on its back. Tenjat is poor as poor gets: poor enough, even, to condescend to the shame of marriage, so his children can help support him one day. But Tenjat has a plan to avoid this fate. He will join the Handlers, those who defend and rule the island. Handlers never marry, and they can even provide for an additional family member. Against his sister's wishes, Tenjat joins the Handlers. And just in time: the Handlers are ramping up for a dangerous battle against the naga monsters, and they need every fighter they can get. (Amazon)
Reviewed by Kim Harris Thacker: mommy, writer, and Bookshop Talk host
M.K. Hutchins is a long-time friend of Bookshop Talk. She has submitted a number of reviews to us over the years, and her comments are always insightful. So when we heard that her debut novel, DRIFT, was coming out in June of this year, we knew we had to get our hands on a copy! And friends, DRIFT did not disappoint.
As a lover of YA fantasy novels, I really appreciate it when an author is a skillful world-builder. I especially love it when the author is so skillful, in fact, that I forget he or she has had a hand in the creation of the setting at all. I want the setting and the plot to feel natural and plausible, even when the events that take place in the story are utterly impossible. Ms. Hutchins is this kind of writer.
The author’s note at the end of the book explains that Ms. Hutchins studied as an archaeologist and linguist in college. The details you would expect from someone who has excavated in foreign lands and spent a great deal of time in studying world cultures abound in DRIFT, from the origins mythology (which draws from the Classic Maya and Aztec understandings of the cosmos and the physical positioning of the underworld, earth, and sky) to the descriptions of the sea monsters, called nagas (which appear in Hindu mythology). The cultural belief in DRIFT that the poor must marry and have children, who will provide them with free labor and support them in their old age, feels true-to-life, too. This is no surprise, since this is the belief and lifestyle in many parts of the real world, today.
All in all, what I loved most about this book were the rich details and the believable world building. But I also loved the characters. At first, the main character, Tenjat, is not very likable. He ridicules Jesso, the man who took him and his sister in when they arrived, alone, on his island—and all because Jesso has many children and even has the gall to be proud of his large family. But, like the best heroes, Tenjat learns that he doesn’t know everything. By the end of the book, his understanding of Jesso’s choices changes to the point where he knows he must advocate a new cultural understanding of families, or the turtle upon which he and the other characters in the story live, will die. Tenjat’s not the only great character, though: his sister, Eflet, and his friends, Avi, Gyr, and Daef, are also wonderful. I’d love to see them in their own novels!
DRIFT is great, folks. It’s fresh and totally unique. I recommend it to anyone who is willing to stay up late at night in order to read and read and read—because you won’t be able to put it down, once you get started.
Stay tuned, Bookshop Talk friends, for an upcoming guest post from M.K. Hutchins, the author of DRIFT!
Market: YA (12 and up)
Sensuality: Mild (some reference to sexual activity, though nothing immediate)
Violence: Moderate (nothing too brutal, but there are a few battles, a reference to a past torture scene, and a threat of torture)
Mature Themes: cultural prejudice, starvation, poverty, death, torture, forbidden romance