Right now we are finding new ways to escape as the world around us depicts a reality that is much darker and stranger than fiction coming off the pages of a sci-fi or horror novel. One particular method of escape for many of us is the use of daydreaming. And our 12-year-old protagonist Maya, in Maya and the Rising Dark, does exactly that, which sets the stage for a series of adventures she encounters in this whimsical tale.
Maya is no ordinary girl. In fact, she’s no ordinary human. Maya is a godling. She is half orisha and half human. Maya however, loves ordinary human things — like going to Comic-Con. Maya woke up one morning for breakfast to discover that her papa purchased Comic-Con tickets for her. Maya has always wanted to go and now she’s got the chance, with several of her Oya costumes to choose from. She’s finally going to have her opportunity to geek out in cosplay.
Maya lives in the South Side of Chicago, a city known for not being the safest place to be at night around other humans, but for Maya, it’s also a place where the supernatural lingers in the shadows and hyenas stalk the streets at night. Maya is also haunted by a man, made up of shadows, who lives in her nightmares. These aren’t ordinary nightmares for Maya. They feel very real — almost like an omen of things to come. She takes these nightly terrors seriously.
Her papa loves to tell tall tales, which could be responsible for these wild dreams, but for Maya, they just seem all too real. And while this concerns Maya, she elects not to worry Papa about her nightmares and keeps it close to the chest. In spite of it all, Maya and her father have a close relationship. In fact, the two practice combat with her trusty staff — a ritual that they have practiced since Maya was in the fourth grade. She knows his every move and Maya knows his. But this time, she’s distracted. It has to do with those awful dreams, and the shadowy man who speaks to her in those dreams taunting her and threatening her each and every time.
Maya and her friends are willing to explore these strange happenings with their inquisitive minds and join Maya to see what is exactly happening in this bizarre world. Maya’s world turns upside down when her papa ends up missing. She knows immediately it was the scary shadowy man haunting her nightmares and visiting her from his dark world who is wholly responsible. Her father is quite valuable, as he is the guardian of the veil between the earthly world and the darkness.
Maya has to fight to bring her papa back as well as harness her hidden powers as a godling before the summer ends. She can’t miss her opportunity the one event she’s wanted to attend all year, and that is Comic-Con.
Maya and the Rising Dark is written by Rena Barron. Barron states in the novel that Maya and her best friends remind her of her 12-year-old self. She herself was a ghost hunting science nerd who loved superheroes. And she also states as an avid reader she didn’t see anyone who looked like her in fantastical adventures.
The setting wonderfully establishes the real terrain of South Side Chicago in a fantasy world illustrating this incredible dichotomy between reality and fantasy. You can easily draw many metaphors from Barron’s writing and experiences where she grew up from the backdrop of this neighborhood, which adds an additional layer of authenticity to this compelling narrative.
What is also remarkable about this tale is that it’s a genre story told through the lens of a Black girl who is into hobbies and interests that aren’t often found in sci-fi adventures for young Black girls. Maya is also is easily someone you can empathize with, as we have all been as adventurous as Maya at some point in our lives and let our imaginations and curiosities get the best of us.
Barron does a beautiful job of personifying beliefs and traditions rooted in the African diaspora and its ancestry. And she does this while still carrying a universal message that can connect with any reader. Maya and the Rising Dark is a touching story and certainly a read worth capturing on the big or small screen one day.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online community for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She's the primary film critic for BGN and is a member of the Critics Choice Association.