Fresh Voices: Q&A with Misa Sugiura

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.

Momo Arashima Steals the Sword of the Wind

Momo Arashima Steals the Sword of the Wind By Misa Sugiura

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.

“A grand adventure.” —Brandon Mull, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Fablehaven

“A wild ride of a novel…hilarious.” —Sayantani DasGupta, New York Times bestselling author of The Kingdom Beyond

All Momo wants for her twelfth birthday is an ordinary life—like everyone else's. At home, she has to take care of her absentminded widowed mother. At school, kids ridicule her for mixing up reality with the magical stories her mother used to tell her.

But then Momo’s mother falls gravely ill, and a death hag straight out of those childhood stories attacks Momo at the mall, where she’s rescued by a talking fox . . . and “ordinary” goes out the window. It turns out that Momo's mother is a banished Shinto goddess who used to protect a long-forgotten passageway to Yomi—a.k.a. the land of the dead. That passageway is now under attack, and countless evil spirits threaten to escape and wreak havoc across the earth.

Joined by Niko the fox and Danny—her former best friend turned popular jerk, whom she never planned to speak to again, much less save the world with—Momo must embrace her (definitely not "ordinary") identity as half human, half goddess to unlock her divine powers, save her mother’s life, and force the demons back to Yomi.

Misa Sugiura

Misa Sugiura’s ancestors include a poet, a priestess, a samurai, and a stowaway. She was born and raised in Chicagoland but eventually found her way to her true home in Northern California, where she lives and writes under a giant oak tree with her husband, two sons, and a cat named Mouse. Momo Arashima Steals the Sword of the Wind is her first middle-grade novel and was inspired by the gods and monsters of her parents’ home country, Japan.

The Fresh Voices series is brought to you in coordination with the RHCB DEI Book Club Committee.
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