Sunday, April 12, 2020

MMGM: Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly

Twelve-year-old Lalani Sarita lives on the mythical island of Sanlagita, a place where birds do not sing, the prick of a sewing needle while mending fishing nets can mean death, and the people are ruled by the menyoro, who doesn't know that he doesn't know much but his word is still law. Sanlagita is dominated by two mountains. The people of Sanlagita must offer up daily benedictions to dark Mount Kahana in the west in order to avoid trouble from the strange beast that lives there. To the north of Sanlagita is sunny Mount Isa where life is beautiful and bountiful, but whenever men sail off into the Veiled Sea to find it, they are never seen again. Lalani's father had been one of those chosen to try to reach Mount Isa. After he disappeared, she and her mother were forced to live with her mean uncle and his cruel son.

One day, Lalani returns home to find her mother, a mender, scrubbing her finger. Her needle had pricked deeply and dangerously and she soon falls ill with mender's disease. Sadly, a drought has killed all the plants that might be used to cure her mother. One day, Lalani, while chasing a runaway shek, finds herself far up Mount Kahana, where she finds an eyeless man living, who uses his magic token to bring rain to Sanlagita. The rain lasts for weeks and weeks and Lalani, who was seen leaving Mount Kahana, is blamed for it. But when she returns to Mount Kahana, the eyeless man refused to stop the rain unless she gives him her eyes.

Deciding that is a too high a price, Lalani returns home, asks her friend Veyda to move her mother to her house, choses the first boat she sees and sets off across the sea that has already taken the lives of so many men, including her father, to find a cure for her mother and a way to make things right again. After all, it is rumored that there is a bright yellow flower that has the cure nestled inside its petals growing on Mount Isa. Can Lalani survive a journey that others have failed at?

Lalani of the Distant Sea is an interesting book, so different from Erin Entrada Kelly's previous novels. It is a fantasy inspired by her Filipino culture, folklore, and oral tradition, resulting in a story that is as dark as it is hopeful - just like the two mountains dominating the lives of the Sanlagitans.

Lalani is one of my favorite kidlit heroines. She's kind, honest, curious, and I particularly like her fearsomeness even in the face of fear. Imagine setting off into the unknown to find a way to help her mother, in a little boat that isn't even reliable. Though her best friend Veyda may be outwardly rebellious, refusing to do her daily benedictions, Lalani plays by the rules, but quietly goes her own way to help those she loves.

Interspersed throughout Lalani's narrative are short tales about different creatures, complete with black and white illustrations. Do not skip these, thinking they have nothing to do with the plot. This is a well-crafted novel (as are all of Kelly's novels) and she pulls it all together when the plot needs it.

Lalani of the Distant Sea is a multilayered, creative novel, richly and vibrantly written with themes that touch on family, friendship, bravery, bullying, and power, a should-read for everyone whether they are fans of fantasy or not.

If you would like to learn more about creatures in Filipino folklore, click HERE

A helpful Teacher's Guide is available to download HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC gratefully received from Edelweiss+
Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle. 


  1. Lalani sounds like a great character. And I like how the fantasy is based on her Filipino cultures. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. I hadn't heard of this one before. The cover is beautiful and it sounds like great story. Lalani sounds strong and likable. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I love strong female protagonists like Lalani -- especially when they are selfless and take on extraordinary tasks to help others. What a multi-layered story and a great escape.

  4. This sounds intriguing and unique with the Filipino elements. I can see this appealing to MG readers I know!

  5. I've enjoyed Erin's previous books and this one sounds like another winner. Lalani is a strong character and someone young readers will enjoy (as well as a few of us older readers). Thanks for featuring this intriguing title on MMGM.

  6. I don't usually read fantasy, but this sounds pretty unusual and interesting. Thanks for telling me about it.

  7. Just read this one yesterday! Quite different from other mythology inspired middle grade titles... I like how you contrast Lalani and Veyda.


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