cover image THE CONCH BEARER


Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, . . Roaring Brook/Porte, $16.96 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-7613-1935-1

Divakaruni (The Mistress of Spices) makes her children's book debut with this exotic novel, in which fantasy threads intertwine with spiritual teachings. While 12-year-old Anand is at work one day at a tea stall in Kolkata, India, he offers a beggar man his own ration of tea and pooris, only to discover that the man is a healer, Abhaydatta. Abhaydatta enlists Anand's help in his mission to return a sacred conch shell to the community of Master Healers that live in the Himalayas. The way in which Abhaydatta wins Anand's confidence is just a preview of the magic and miracles to follow (he heals Anand's sister, who had stopped speaking after witnessing a murder). A street urchin joins the pair on their journey; Surabhanu, the one who stole the conch from its rightful place in the Himalayas, with powers dark enough to match Abhaydatta's light, dogs their every step; and the journey itself brims with magical beasts and enchanted streams, cliffs and winds. As with any true quest, Anand must look within in order to complete his mission. Divakaruni keeps her tale fresh and riveting with details of India's smells, sights and tastes, with characters that possess both good and evil, and with her exploration of the fine line between faith and magic. Young readers can only hope for more from this master storyteller. Ages 8-up. (Sept.)