Books & Literature

Book Review: The Spider and Her Demons, by sydney khoo

YA FANTASY: This is a story about what it takes to make peace with your demons – literal or otherwise. An urban fantasy spin on growing up.

An emotive Australian paranormal tale.

Feature image credit: Penguin Books Australia

The Spider and Her Demons unfurls a mesmerising urban fantasy that immerses readers in the dynamic tapestry of bustling Chinatown streets and the enchanting harbour’s nocturnal glow. This urban realm conceals a secret world where demons and witches wield unimaginable powers, existing in plain sight. Yet, beneath the surface of supernatural intrigue, the novel artfully explores a tapestry of pressing social issues that resonate profoundly with young adult readers.

At its heart, khoo’s narrative serves as an evocative exploration of crucial themes such as self-esteem, the quest for identity, and the intricate balance of navigating bi-cultural family expectations while yearning for acceptance within a close-knit peer group.

Zhi, the central character, becomes the living embodiment of these societal dilemmas. Ensnared in the complexities of her aunt’s dumpling shop and the formidable expectations placed upon her, Zhi longs for a semblance of normalcy in her teenage life. As she navigates the tumultuous waters of high school, she grapples with the delicate art of concealing her true nature — that she is half spider demon. However, a life-altering encounter with Dior Panne-Nix, the school’s most popular girl, shatters her carefully constructed façade. In the wake of this incident, Zhi confronts the sobering revelation that she is not the most formidable presence lurking in the shadows.

The Spider and Her Demons deftly dances between moments of poignant introspection and light-hearted humour, delivering a multi-dimensional and emotionally charged experience for readers. The narrative plunges into the arduous journey of coming to terms with one’s inner demons, whether they manifest as literal entities or the intangible struggles of self-worth and self-identity.

This novel stands as a powerful testament to the transformative capacity of storytelling, making it an essential read for young adults navigating the intricate challenges of self-discovery and acceptance. Through its pages, readers gain a unique lens through which to scrutinise their own personal struggles, their voyage toward self-realisation and self-acceptance, and the pressures exerted by external expectations.

It’s worth noting that sydney khoo (written in all lower-case) is a recipient of Penguin Random House Australia’s Write It fellowship program, a commendable initiative committed to unearthing and nurturing unpublished writers from diverse backgrounds. khoo’s narrative voice and storytelling prowess exemplify the program’s dedication to amplifying diverse voices within the realm of literature.

In summation, The Spider and Her Demons emerges as an insightful and thought-provoking addition to the young adult fiction genre. Seamlessly blending elements of urban fantasy with a poignant exploration of the trials and tribulations faced by contemporary young adults, the novel extends a guiding hand to those grappling with these profound themes. Zhi’s tumultuous journey serves as a poignant reminder that our authentic selves should never be relegated to the shadows, and that embracing one’s identity in the face of societal pressures is a courageous act. As the book’s final lines allude, this is a tale that lingers, leaving us yearning for the next chapter.

Reviewed by Leanne Caune

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Distributed by: Penguin Books Australia
Released: August 2023
RRP: $19.99

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