The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  Although Sai comes from an impoverished background, she’s managed to hide it and secure a coveted position as mapmaker Paiyoon’s assistant.  When Paiyoon is invited by the Queen to join an expedition that may lead to the discovery of the legendary Sunderlands, he invites Sai, who hopes to use the opportunity to improve her fortunes when she returns home.  On board, Sai meets a cast of fascinating characters including the mysterious Rian, whose rags-to-riches story Sai hopes to emulate, and a stowaway named Boo.  As they approach the part of the world rumored to hold both the Sunderlands and dragons, life on board starts to fall apart.  Storms, near-mutiny, and a close encounter with a dragon leave Sai and Boo stranded on a desert island.  But fortunes change, and a series of surprises lead Sai to some startling discoveries about both her past and her present and to the realization that she can be herself and still have the future she dreams of.  369 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This absorbing fantasy will have readers turning pages to find out what happens to the many fascinating and well-drawn characters who make the voyage along with Sai.  Christina Soontornvart picked up two Newbery honors in 2021, and with multiple starred reviews, this book is sure to be a contender.

Cons:  I read in the reviews that this story is based on Soontornvart’s Thai heritage.  I would have enjoyed an author’s note explaining that influence in greater detail.

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