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“Beautiful things can kill you just as quickly as ugly ones,” Mr. Yazzie. –Race to the Sun
Race to the Sun
by Rebecca Roanhorse
AR Test, Diverse Characters
Lately, seventh-grader Nizhoni Begay has been able to detect monsters, like the man in the fancy suit who was in the bleachers at her basketball game. Turns out he’s Mr. Charles, her dad’s new boss at the oil and gas company. He’s alarmingly interested in Nizhoni and her brother, Mac, their Navajo heritage, and the legend of the Hero Twins. Nizhoni knows he’s a threat, but her father won’t believe her.
When Nizhoni’s dad disappears the next day, he left behind a message that said “Run!” The siblings and Nizhoni’s best friend, Davery, are then thrust into a rescue mission that can only be accomplished with the help of Diné Holy People, who are all disguised as quirky characters. However, their aid will come at a price. The kids must pass a series of trials that seem as if nature itself is out to kill them. If Nizhoni, Mac, and Davery can reach the house of the Sun, they will be outfitted with what they need to defeat the ancient monsters Mr. Charles has unleashed. It will take more than weapons “for Nizhoni to become the hero she was destined to be.”
Middle-grade readers will relate to Nizhoni, who wants to be good at something but just isn’t. When her emotionally distant father is kidnapped, Nizhoni embarks on a quest to save her father. However, she isn’t alone; Nizhoni’s book-loving best friend and annoying brother join her adventure through the Southwest. On the quest, Nizhoni and her friends meet the “Holy People” as well as some scary monsters.
The fast-paced story combines Navajo mythology with moments of humor, unexpected twists, and timeless lessons about friendship, family, and failure. The importance of hard work and helping others is weaved into the story. Spider Woman says, “All good things come through hard work. If something is too easy to get, it isn’t worth much, is it?”
At first, Nizhoni doesn’t feel like she has the qualities to become a hero. However, Nizhoni learns that she doesn’t need to change. One of the story’s recurring themes is: “Don’t worry about what you’re supposed to be. Just be who you are.” While Nizhoni shows bravery, she is able to defeat the monsters only with the help of others.
Race to the Sun will take readers on an action-packed quest and introduce them to Navajo mythology. Nizhoni is an interesting but imperfect narrator. Readers will relate to Nizhoni’s insecurities and her moments of courage. The conclusion is rushed, and there are several holes in the plot, but this doesn’t take away from the book’s enjoyment. For readers looking for more marvelous mythology books, the following books will delight you: the Storm Runner series by J.C. Cervantes and the Pandava series by Roshani Chokshi.
- When Nizhoni’s parents are reunited, they kiss.
- Charles tells Nizhoni that he wants her dead. Without thinking, Nizhoni runs “full tilt at Mr. Charles. His startled eyes are the last thing I see before I kick that knife right out of his hand… I’m not done. I head-butt Mr. Charles in the stomach… And for good measure, I execute a perfect elbow strike to the cheek, just like I learned in self-defense class Coach taught in PE last year.” Nizhoni’s dad comes in and stops her.
- In the past, Nizhoni had to attend anger management classes for “punching Elora Huffstatter in the nose.”
- Adrien, a bully, and his friends corner Mac. “Mac screams, an animal-like bloodcurdling cry of rage. He slams his hands onto the ground, palms flat… A low rumble rolls across the baseball field, like an army of badgers tunneling through the earth, and then, suddenly, all the sprinklers turn on…” Mac makes the sprinklers shoot at the bullies. “The jets are all pointed at them, zipping back and forth in sharp slashing cuts, or pulsing bursts aimed at their eyes.” The bullies eventually are able to run away.
- In order to save Black Jet Girl, Nizhoni needs to get by two buzzards. She throws a feather into a fire and “it explodes into a million tiny salt crystals that pop and sizzle. Hot granules fly everywhere… The salt strikes their protruding eyes and they stumble around, screeching in pain.”
- Some people believe that Spider Woman eats children. However, Spider Woman helps Nizhoni and her friends.
- Nizhoni and her friends are following the Rainbow road. They enter a corridor surrounded by rocks. When Mac disappears, Nizhoni runs after him. When she finds him, “he’s staring right at me. With big red eyes… He bares his sharp teeth and hisses… Monster Mac takes a swipe at me, and I see that besides having long, pointy teeth, he has long, pointy claws, too.”
- When Nizhoni sees monster Mac, she turns to “launch a swinging kick right at the monster’s stomach. It lands with an Oomph! I elbow him in the chest and he doubles over. One more kick—this time to his ribs—and he’s down. He’s on all fours, panting.” Monster Mac “becomes a cockroach. It scuttles off…” The fight is described over one page.
- In a multi-chapter battle, Nizhoni and her friends fight to keep the monsters from returning to earth. “Nizhoni lifts her bow and…release. The arrow flies true, a streak of white lightning that hits the banáá yee aghání in its veiny red eyeball. The monster screeches and veers away…”
- A banáá yee aghání goes after Nizhoni’s mother. “Mom waits until the buzzard is practically on top of her, and then she swings the sword. Lightning crackles from its tip, slashing the monster’s face. Ligai drops, almost too quickly, streaking under the buzzard and dragging its beak across the monster’s underside, tearing it open.”
- During the fight, Mac falls off a flying bird. “A shimmery substance unfurls in the air underneath him like a silver net. He falls into the glimmering stuff, and it completely envelops his body, rolling him into what looks like a giant burrito.” Later, Mac finds out that Spider Woman put him in a spider web to keep him safe.
- When Mr. Rock points a gun, Nizhoni’s mom “launches herself into the air, her sword slashing downward, and Mr. Rock’s gun goes flying—while still attached to his hand.”
- Mr. Charles shoots an arrow at Nizhoni. “It’s a direct hit right over my heart. I scream as fire radiates through my body… I struggle to breathe, my pulse beating too loud in my ears… I fall to the canyon below.” Nizhoni discovers that she cannot be killed by her own arrow.
- Nizhoni uses lightning “that’s been building up in my blood. And I blow Mr. Charles to smithereens… And then a sound like a bubble popping. And then more pops as all the banáá yee aghání in the sky above me burst into a blaze of white lightning and turn into ash that rains down on me.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- A girl tells Nizhoni that her mom “left us because I was a dirty Indian. Then she made war-whopping noises like something out of a bad Western.”
- Adrien, a bully, and his friends bother Mac. The bully says, “Marcus Be-gay! Oh, please be gay!” The rest of the boys chant, “Gay! Gay! Gay!”
- Adrien calls Nizhoni a loser.
- “Oh my God” is used as an exclamation one time.
- Heck is used three times. For example, when Mr. Charles meets Nizhoni and her brother, who are a mess, Mr. Charles asks, “But holy heck, what happened to you all?”
- Nizhoni calls her brother a dork.
- A buzzard tells his brother, “Don’t be an idiot.”
- Nizhoni says her mom is “badass.”
- Nizhoni can tell if a person is a monster in disguise. When she sees Adrien, a bully, “his eyes meet mine and that horrible sensation—my monster detecting—springs to life. The hair on the back of my neck rises, and a chill like the trail of an ice cube scuttles down my spine.”
- Nizhoni knows the “language of animals” and can see in the dark.
- Marcus can control water. He tells Nizhoni, “I’ve made water move before. Like in the bathtub.”
- Nizhoni’s stuffed horned animal comes to life. Nizhoni had “been raised to take seemingly supernatural things in stride. Up to now, talking animals hadn’t been a part of my everyday life, but my shimásání taught me there’s more to the world than we humans can see…”
- Mr. Charles is a shape-shifter who can look human. He is related “to a nasty kind of monster called a banáá yee aghání. These are vicious bird creatures.”
- Nizhoni meets a crystal boy, who is made of white crystal rock, and a girl, who is made out of black rock.
- Nizhoni and her best friend Davery go into a school that is having a prom. They are tempted to stay, but when they leave, “in an instant, the whole gym shimmers and disappears.”
- Nizhoni looks into a mirror. She “leans forward to press my hands against the mirror, and suddenly the surface is not there anymore… I go plummeting into the glass.” Nizhoni is transported to a glade, “where she can see people, but they can’t see her.”
- Nizhoni meets the sun, who is “wearing blinding bright armor and carrying a golden shield. And step-by-step on an invisible set of stairs, he appears to be climbing into the sky.”
- Nizhoni finds her mom, her friends, and others encased in amber. When the amber cases shatter, Nizhoni looks up, and “Mac is standing on a platform, yawning and stretching his arms over his head.” All the people in the amber come back to life.
- Nizhoni and her friends must fight a group of buzzards, but “only a monster slayer can look into their eyes.”
- Along the journey, Nizhoni meets the Holy People. Someone tells her, “The tricky part is that the Holy People don’t always answer, or at least not in ways that you might recognize. But they are always there.”
- After Nizhoni’s father is kidnapped, she prays “with all my might that he’s out of that trunk and getting food and water.”