A thrilling fantasy series about a twelve-year-old girl who sets out to save her Shinto goddess mother—and the world—by facing down demons intent on bringing chaos.
What inspired you to write Momo Arashima Steals the Sword of the Wind?
My first son was in elementary school during the publication of the Percy Jackson series. He was a voracious reader, and I often wished for a Percy Jackson-like book that would give him a connection to Japanese legends and religions. The specific legend I had in mind was a quasi-historic sea battle in which the three most sacred items in Japanese religious tradition were lost, and the drowned samurai from the losing side turned into crabs whose shells were etched with the angry faces of their former human selves. It took nearly fifteen years until I felt ready to write that story.
What was the most difficult part about writing the book? What part was the easiest?
On a macro scale, my greatest challenge was balancing the action scenes with the quieter, more reflective scenes where characters process what’s happening. The hardest scenes for me to write were two scenes where Momo and Danny discuss race, family, power, and popularity. Danny is a transracial adoptee (a Japanese baby adopted by white parents), so that makes the topic even more tricky to navigate. I spent hours and hours revising about 300 words, trying to address these topics with honesty, nuance, and sensitivity while keeping the dialogue as organic and natural as possible.
What character or element of the story do you identify with the most and why?
I identify strongly with the protagonist, Momo Arashima. I was Momo in my middle school years: a highly imaginative, highly perceptive misfit who couldn’t figure out how to be “normal”, much less popular. Like me, Momo sees how tenuous and shallow the popular kids’ friendships are, but she still wishes she could be part of that world. She’s also had to shoulder the burden of taking care of her mother, who doesn’t fit into the world around her, either, and is clearly suffering from depression. I did not have to take on adult responsibilities the way Momo does, but as the child of immigrants, I often felt like I had to help my parents navigate a world they didn’t understand.
What do you want kids today to take away from this story?
Apart from the feeling that they’ve gone on an amazing adventure and maybe learned a little about Japanese religious and folk characters, I want kids to know that it’s okay to be different and weird, that it’s okay to feel angry, anxious, or insecure, and that while all of those character traits and feelings can make life really hard, they can also be a source of power. I hope kids who feel like outsiders for any reason will read this book and feel like they’ve been given a shot of courage to continue being exactly who they are.
What are you currently reading?
My current audiobooks: I just finished Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and am now listening to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. In print, I’m reading Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata and The Reunion by Kayla Olson.