Journey Across the Hidden Islands by Sarah Beth Durst
A magnificent portrayal of a realistic coming-of-age story, made me have faith in humanity at some point in this story.
We follow a set of twins,Princess Ji-Lin and the royal heir Seika who must go on a perilous "Emperor's Journey" to talk to a dragon who protects their residence, Hidden Islands, via a barrier with the outside world and effectively protecting them from the outside world. Until now, when then face unprecedented threats and the sisters must make a final decision that will change the history of their beloved islands.
I don't read many middle-grade novels, they're not usually in my wheelhouse but I really felt like I could connect to these characters and could grasp the simplistic fantasy world of the Hidden Islands. There were delightful pet companions, a flying lion in this case that warmed the story with his humor and dedication to the bond between him and Ji-Lin.
As always there are frustrations when children that are extremely inexperienced and unprepared make stupid choices, but I actually feel like these princesses were humble enough to accept their shameful decisions and learn from their mistakes. Still, they journeyed way too young (out of necessity) and you could visibly see how sorely unprepared they were, but at least they could realize this and not hide from it with pride.
I could also admire their vast determination to "make things right" and keep their villagers as safe and happy as possible. For two twelve years olds, I almost found it unbelievably how wise these children were, although of course this could stem from their wise teachers and guiding companions that are with them along the way.
One thing that I really loved is that the author avoided including a romantic interest with the boy companion that they picked up on their journey. At first it seemed like these romantic interests may evolve, but then when I saw the author kept the storyline romance-free I truly appreciated this as non-romance book from young tweenagers.
**Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an arc of this book in exchange for my honest review.**
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