I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Tale of a No-Name Squirrel by Radhika R. Dhariwal
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on April 5th 2016
Genres: Adventure, Animals, Middle Grade
Solve riddles with Squirrel as he travels to the walled city of bees, the fireless tea plantation of mice, and treacherous desert full of tricksters in this beautifully written and creative debut adventure.
Squirrel never expected to be anything other than a slave: the last animal slave in Bimmau. That is, until he is invited to a high profile wedding and takes a sip of the forbidden ceremonial wine, unlocking a mysterious riddle. The riddle reveals that there is a key which has the power to grant Squirrel his freedom (and a name!), but also could enslave anyone in Bimmau. Disastrous if it falls into the wrong hands! Squirrel and his friends find themselves in a race to find Brittle’s Key before the army of crows gets to him…and before the mysterious Colonel finds the key first.
Squirrel is the last slave in Bimmau under an overbearing taskmaster. He has no name and no power. Everything changes though when Squirrel receives an invitation to a fancy wedding. While at the feast Squirrel drinks from the ceremonial wine and unlocks a riddle in his mind that sets him off on a quest to find his name and hopefully secure his freedom. His new found memories riddles him with challenges he must solve and various mysteries he must unearth, of which the powerful Brittle’s Key seems to the biggest. I enjoyed the world building in this book and reading about all the places Squirrel passed through on his journey. Squirrel encounters a town full of thieves and gamblers, there was also a town where the water supply is guarded by camel guards and one where mice grow tea. Squirrel is not alone in his journey either he has the companionship of a canine named Des and some other allies. The one Squirrel is the most suspicious about is Azulfa, the crow who always everywhere along his journey.
There are a few things I did not like, such as the overly drawn out and detailed descriptions of foods being eaten (mainly because it’s a bit disturbing to see these animals who are supposedly all intelligent, talking beings eating each other…i.e. the scene where they eat lamb…would this not be murder? Or even a type of cannibalism?). Between the gruesome cat on cat murder scene in the beginning of the book, the obvious classism of the Pedipurr Dogs/Cats and the villain who seeks to re-establish slavery you can not ignore that there are some very deep and dark themes/scenes in this book. Which is why sometimes the writing though beautiful and descriptive seems a bit “juvenile” in much of this book (though I understand that it is aimed at Middle Grader readers).
I did like that the story ultimately at its core (once you get past the darker elements and the politics of the animals) is about finding the truth about who you are and friendship. Clearly not meant for every reader out there, but I would recommend this book to strong readers who enjoy chapter books, solving puzzles, riddles, mysteries and animal adventure stories (the crossword puzzle at the end of the book is a nice touch). Thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read this book in return for my honest review.