The Secret Is Out!

Sunaya with her mother, Sayantani DasGupta
Sunaya with her mother, Sayantani DasGupta

Sunaya with her mother, author Sayantani DasGupta, after recording a recent Scholastic Reads podcast episode

“A star is born,” said Soman Chainani, author of The School for Good and Evil, a best-selling The New York Times book series. Chainani was speaking at the launch for The Serpent’s Secret (Scholastic, 2018), a middle-grade novel written by my mother, Sayantani DasGupta.

A humorous and fast-paced fantasy, The Serpent’s Secret is the first in a planned series called Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond. It is based on the traditional Bengali folktales and children’s stories that DasGupta heard from her grandmother as a child.

“I grew up as an immigrant daughter in the United States, but would spend my long summer vacations in India with my grandparents,” DasGupta said. “I decided to set The Serpent’s Secret in a magical land called the Kingdom Beyond Seven Oceans and Thirteen Rivers, because that is the imaginary kingdom in which most Bengali folktales take place.”

The narrator of the story is a 12-year-old girl named Kiranmala, who lives in New Jersey. On the surface, she seems like an ordinary sixth-grader. But this daughter of immigrants from India struggles with her identity.

“In the same way that I found the strength of my own identity through these folktales,” DasGupta said, “I wanted Kiranmala, my heroine, to find her superpowers by returning to the land of her ancestors and accepting all the different parts of herself.”


The Serpent’s Secret

The cover of The Serpent’s Secret, a new middle-grade fantasy novel by Sayantani DasGupta


The launch for the novel took place last month at Books of Wonder in New York City. DasGupta told assembled readers, authors, and friends about the inspiration for the book and its heroine, whose parents tell her that she is “a real Indian princess” from a different dimension. Kiranmala refuses to believe them at first, but a series of extraordinary events helps her to understand their wisdom.

“I wrote this book for my younger self, the 12-year-old me who did not see myself reflected in books, movies, or the culture around me,” DasGupta told Chainani. “It’s hard to be what you cannot see, and if you never see someone like yourself being brave, being heroic, and saving the world, it becomes hard to understand that you can too.”

DasGupta, who is a pediatrician by training and a professor of Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, is now anticipating publication of the second novel in her series, which is due out in early 2019. She noted that The Serpent’s Secret, like the recent films Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time, shows young people that heroes can be any gender or color.

“To create a better future for us all,” the author said, “we need as many different heroes of as many different backgrounds as we can get.” 


Top photo courtesy of the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps