Becoming Jinn, by Lori Goldstein

I recently took my daughters to a wonderful book reading event at a not-so-local but not-too-faraway library. There were crafts for the kids (and adults) to do while ten YA authors read excerpts from their recently published books. I told my daughters that they could each choose a book that interested them (many intrigued me). They still had summer reading to finish before they could start their books, which really ticked off my oldest because she really wants to read the book she chose. Her choice was one of the two I was most interested in based on the excerpts read by the authors. Because she still has a book to read after the one she’s currently reading, I went with my other top choice, which was chosen by one of my twins. The book: Becoming Jinn.

Imagine this classic moment from film: A wide-eyed and cheerful Hagrid saying to a young boy who lived under the stairs, “You’re a wizard, Harry.” Or how about in the Archie-comic-based TV show when Sabrina learns she’s a witch. Both characters are thrust into a magical world they never knew existed, and both seem to have a blast learning about their newfound powers while making mistakes along the way due to their inexperience, clumsiness, or teenage overconfidence.

At the beginning of Becoming Jinn, main character Azra is the opposite of all that. She has known for years that her destiny to gain her Jinn (genie) powers would officially start on her sixteenth birthday, and she’s not happy about it at all. That premise intrigued me so much, and the first chapter—both when read aloud by the author and when I read it on my own—perfectly sets up that reverse scenario.

When she wakes up on her birthday, Azra’s mother has already placed the silver Jinn bangle around her wrist, and no matter what kind of tool she uses (including a flaming torch and a reciprocating saw), she can’t remove it. No matter how often she clips her fingernails or snips her hair, they’re going to grow back because becoming Jinn comes with a physical transformation that makes her, in Azra’s words, “…well, hot.”

The world these genies inhabit is interesting. Azra and her five Zar “sisters,” along with their mothers, are under the control of the oppressive regime of the Afrit—the ruling genie family. They receive their human assignments along with a time limit in days to grant their one true wish. They need to use their powers to determine what that wish is and then use their magic to create a plausible way to grant it. After all, in this day and age of cell phone cameras and YouTube, an aspiring Jinn doesn’t want to be witnessed. I thought all of these details were clever and executed well by the author.

Naturally, Azra screws up some of her first few wishes. I almost went through the roof in laughter when she granted a snack-bar-coworker’s wish to be better at basketball. And a later mistake, completely careless on Azra’s part, comes with some severe consequences. In fact, when Azra was doing her reluctant-Jinn thing, I felt the book was at its strongest.

However, I had some issues with the supporting cast of Zar sisters. There’s the snotty one, the sweet one, and three others that I had difficulty distinguishing. They seem to flaunt their magical abilities and use it to get away with things that teens try to get away with. It seems inconsistent, given the decree not to get caught (and the consequences that could come from getting caught) that they’d use their powers so brazenly without getting into trouble.

There are two boys vying for Azra’s attention—love triangles have become almost obligatory in YA literature. Both guys seem to be nice enough: one is a neighbor and brother of Azra’s deceased childhood friend, and the other is a hot lifeguard. Afrit rules forbid Azra from marrying a human (or even telling a human about her true identity), so this is a triangle where Azra really can’t have either of them, and thus it’s a new spin on the triangle. Play them both since she can’t have either. However, when Azra is wrestling with her feelings for the boys, the book doesn’t stand out enough.

In an attempt to be spoiler-free, I will say that I couldn’t put down the final act of the book. Tension and stakes are raised, and a revelation about Azra’s past stunned me (about a page or so before Azra figured it out). The ending of the book is left wide open, but that didn’t bother me as much as it normally would because Azra at least found some acceptance of what she must do next, even if it was somewhat forced upon her.

When the story is about Azra’s reluctance to become Jinn and her successes/mistakes at granting wishes, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would rate it 5 stars. When it’s about Azra being a confused teen, it’s okay at 3 stars. Put them together into one book review, and I’ll rate Becoming Jinn a silver-bangle-worthy FOUR STARS, with a wish that the sequel goes for the gold.

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Becoming Jinn is available at Amazon.

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