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Hamra and the Jungle of Memories is a stunning retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” that brims with big emotions, big adventure and very big teeth.
Hamra knows the rules about the Langkawi jungle behind her island home in Malaysia: Never enter without asking the jungle’s permission, never use her real name and never take anything that isn’t hers. But the morning of Hamra’s 13th birthday finds her disinclined to heed adults and their inexplicable rules. Her mother, a nurse, is staying at a hospital far away, treating COVID-19 patients; her father is busy delivering supplies to those in need all over the island; and her beloved grandmother is increasingly unrecognizable as dementia steals her memories.
Feeling frustrated and forgotten, Hamra consciously breaks the rules by taking a magical jambu fruit from the jungle, earning the ire of the powerful weretiger to whom it belongs. The tiger makes Hamra a deal: If she will help him regain his human form, he will forgive her crime and heal her grandmother. What follows is a series of dangerous tasks that take Hamra, her best friend, Ilyas, and the tiger through the jungle and beyond.
Their journey is a kaleidoscope of mysterious marketplaces, cryptic clues and beautiful monsters. Acclaimed author Hanna Alkaf’s powerful use of imagery and metaphor make Hamra’s inner life of simmering anger and fierce love as vibrant as the magical world around her. All three of the novel’s heroes are persistent and believably flawed, and their mistakes and emotional bonds are as vital to the story as their abilities to ward off killer bees or locate ancient bones. Even the tiger, who originally appears as an unknowable threat, takes on human complexity as his growing friendship with Hamra forces him to face his past.
Perfectly entwined with the narrative’s fairy-tale and folkloric roots are concerns that will feel realistic to young readers. Hamra grapples with the fear and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, including isolation from school and friends, exhausted parents and the hypocrisies of authorities. The book also explores the sometimes difficult transition from childhood into adolescence and the heartache of watching a family member be transformed by incurable illness. The bravery Hamra shows in the face of these challenges admirably mirrors the valor she displays on her quest.
Featuring engaging characters and fantastic thrills, Hamra and the Jungle of Memories is an unforgettable adventure.