Shveta Thakrar’s debut YA fantasy novel, Star Daughter, just released yesterday. We sat down with her to discuss this beautiful book inspired by Hindu mythology, and the exciting, recent movement of publishing more non-European fantasy books.
Contemporary fantasy with Hindu mythology
Brianna: What was your initial inspiration for Star Daughter?
Shveta: A few different things swirled into one big, colorful ball of an origin story: I wanted to write a contemporary fantasy using Hindu mythology and folklore the way Holly Black uses fairylore in her YA novels. I read and fell in love with Neil Gaiman’s and Charles Vess’s illustrated novel Stardust back in 2002 and, after later watching the movie in 2007, thought that stars as people should come in all skin tones; and finally, I never forgot how touched I was to find Tanuja Desai Hidier’s contemporary YA novel Born Confused when I was in my early twenties. I’d never seen myself in a book that way before, and I was determined to do the same for other readers—but with magic.
How Star Daughter is unapologetically desi and Hindu
Brianna: What is it about this book that matters most to you?
Shveta: Honestly, how unapologetically desi and Hindu it is while also being fantastical. Seeing that distilled on the cover in the form of Sheetal (the gorgeous illustration is by Charlie Bowater and the equally stunning design by Corina Lupp) and hearing how excited desi readers are to feel seen by it makes my heart sing (in the notes of starsong, of course). I wrote this story to be enjoyed by anyone of any background, but I wrote it for the teen girl I was, isolated in a farm town in the American Midwest with no one to tell her she was beautiful and wonderful in her brown skin with her Sanskrit name.
Brianna: What is something you hope readers will take away from reading Star Daughter?
Shveta: Many things. Let’s see! That there’s a place for every single person, and you matter just the way you are. That female friendship is fabulous, and there’s room for us to love one another instead of being in cutthroat competition. That Hindu mythology (as in “sacred stories,” not “lies”) is really rich and worth exploring, whether or not you practice the faith. That kindness is sexy. And finally, that the enchanted Night Market might be just around the corner, so keep an eye out!
The movement for diverse books
Brianna: There has been an exciting move in publishing lately to increase the number of fantasy books based on non-Western mythology. What are your thoughts on this? Where do we still need to improve?
Shveta: Along with many other marginalized authors, I’ve been pushing for this for a long time. Since I decided to write only desi characters back in 2006, in fact, and it’s so, so wonderful to finally see the fruits of all our efforts ripening. Let’s be frank. My fun book about starry brown girl magic never would have sold before the We Need Diverse Books movement and all the wonderful books that came out as a result of it and paved my way. Give me all the mythology and folklore from all around the world, please, in all the different takes authors of those backgrounds have!
That said, we all still need to make a concentrated and ongoing effort to keep supporting marginalized authors (both with our words and with our dollars) and giving them to write the kinds of stories they want to however they want to. It needs to be deliberate—a marathon, not a sprint.
I have faith that it won’t always be that way, though. True freedom for all of us will be the day when we don’t have to actively do that anymore. These stories earning the success they deserve will be natural. We’ll all look back and wonder why and how it was any other way—and that’s exactly how it should be. Everybody reading stories about themselves and about everybody else.
Brianna: If you could give just one piece of writing advice, what would it be?
Shveta: Write from your heart. What is the story only you can tell? Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks you should or shouldn’t write; just ask your heart what it wants to share with the world, and let it speak through your pen or your keyboard. That is the gift we all need, and I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us.