The Pearl Hunter
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Pearl Hunter, by Japanese American author Miya T. Beck, is set in a fantasy world that resembles 11th century Japan. Readers will learn about many creatures from Japanese folklore, especially the kitsune or many-tailed fox and the Dragon King. They will also learn how much the life of a pearl diver and a noble woman differ: A pearl diver spends most of her time in the sea, and a noble woman is forced to dress up and stay inside. Guess which life Kai, the main character, prefers. Kai is sent on a quest by the gods to save her twin sister, Kishi, when Kishi dies in the belly of a whale. Kai is injured with an arrow, kidnapped, threatened with violence by her captors, pecked at by crows, and chased. In a few skirmishes with arrows and swords, some men die, with some gore including a description of an arrow through an eye socket and animal bites down to the thigh bone. Animals are also killed: A fox is hunted for sport and a beloved lame horse is shot. There are scenes of romance that end in embraces but no kissing, and adults drink sake. On the one hand, Kai is about the bravest person imaginable, going after her sister in the belly of a whale, bargaining with gods to get her back, and leaving her sheltered life on a dangerous quest. On the other hand, Kai repeatedly insists that her sister deserves life more than she does, even after all she endures on her quest.
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What's the Story?
In THE PEARL HUNTER, it's the morning of Kai's first solo dive, her final test as a pearl diver. Her twin sister Kishi completed her dive a month before while Kai was in trouble for doing something her mother deemed too dangerous: pulling up more than one mussel at a time. Now Kai won't feel left behind any longer, so long as she follows her mother's rules, so long as she doesn't think too much about the scary dream she had that morning of her sister in danger. But just as she's completing the trial, Kishi is gobbled up by the mythic ghost whale. Against her parents' wishes, Kai goes after the whale and nearly pulls Kishi out while the whale is sleeping. This catches the attention of the Dragon King and the sea goddess Benzaiten, protector of pearl divers. While Kai explains to them that she will do anything to save her sister from death, they offer her a dangerous quest to prove herself and get her beloved twin back.
Is It Any Good?
This fantasy quest tale steeped in Japanese folklore doubles as a tale of sisters torn apart, not just by the dangers of the sea but through the painful and confusing process of growing up. Kai's quest to save her twin sister is also a quest to find herself. The twins are at the age where one has a crush and the other doesn't understand. Where one girl easily falls in line, always heeds her parents, and the other questions things and tests boundaries. It's sad that Kai considers herself the "bad twin" and thinks her sister should be saved over her, essentially because Kishi is the "good one." Readers may find this jarring. Can Kai be a little nicer to herself? She just pulled her sister out of a monster ghost whale. I mean, wow.
At least the gods are kinder to Kai than she is to herself. Yes, the quest is nearly impossible, but they send her on her way with some really helpful tips and parting gifts. Not only can she fly partway, but feeding herself will never be a problem. If only the outside world was also kinder as well. Her run-ins with bandits and a greedy general test her resolve and teach her about life's many dangers. Her relationship with Ren, the boy forced to work for the bandits, teaches her that kindness and support can be found in unlikely places. Kai learns to ride horses, to shoot a bow, and faces off against her final foe. She's uncovered so much about her own value along the way. Yet Kai makes a choice Kai that makes it seem like much of this growth is squandered, and many questions linger about what really happened. Readers will be torn on whether the ending satisfies, but there's also something akin to a folktale about it. Something's lost, something's gained, and there's a twist you never saw coming.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about twins Kai and Kishi in The Pearl Hunter. Kai considers herself the "bad twin." Why? Does she still feel this way about herself by the end of the book?
What qualities does Kai possess that she doesn't give herself credit for? Are you like Kai, talking down to yourself and listing your faults? Why is it easier to do this than give ourselves props for our good qualities?
What about Kai's decision at the end of the story. Would you have given up what she did for the ending she received? Why or why not? If you wanted the story to end a different way, try writing down your version.
- Author: Miya T. Beck
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, Fairy Tales, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires, Ocean Creatures
- Character Strengths: Courage, Perseverance
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Balzar+Bray
- Publication date: February 7, 2023
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 320
- Available on: Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: February 27, 2023
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