Book Recommendation: Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson

A Western fairy tale meets an Indian-inspired culture in Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson published by Henry Holt and Co. in 2010. In this story, two sisters receive two very different gifts from a goddess, and through their journeys, they must discover the faults within themselves and how to use their gifts.

Toads and diamonds quote-Naghali_s snake messengers

Summary

Diribani and her family suffer from poverty, but that all changes when Diribani helps an old beggar woman at the well. The snake goddess Naghali-ji blesses Diribani so flowers and jewels fall from her lips with every word she speaks. But when Diribani’s stepsister, Tana, visits the well, she receives a very different gift of having snakes and toads fall from her mouth.

“Revenge, greed, necessity: Any could be your undoing. Only think. One of the gems you spout so casually would secure an ambitious man’s future.”

So begins the journeys of the two sisters as Diribani travels with a prince and Tana hides from the cruel governor of their province. Religions clash and hearts are broken as the two sisters try to understand how the goddess wants them to use their gifts, though they soon learn things they never imagined about themselves. This is a great book for readers who like fairy tale retellings and different cultures.

“Beauty wasn’t in this body, crusted with filth and sores. It wasn’t even in the paintings Diribani had created, dry pigments arranged on flat paper. It was in life itself: the boldness of daffodils, the sweetness of violets, the resolution of diamond. Like Tana’s resolution, Tana’s priceless mix of cleverness, loyalty, and strength. Diribani had lost her way, so she would be guided by her sister’s example.”

Book Group Questions

  1. How were both Diribani’s and Tana’s gifts blessings? How were they curses?
  2. In the author’s note at the end of the book, Heather Tomlinson said that she invented the two religions in this novel, though she did use elements from several actual religions. Discuss the similarities and differences between the actual religions and those seen in this story. Also discuss how religions can clash with each other.
  3. Diribani had the unspoken wish for beauty while Tana’s unspoken wish was to keep her family safe. How did the gifts they received reflect these wishes? What did the sisters learn about these wishes by the end of the book?
  4. Compare this story to the original fairy tale, “The Fairies” by Charles Perrault. What are the similarities and differences?

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