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Grabber is a historical romp through British-era India that mingles young-adult adventurism with historical fiction

A historical romp through British-era India, mingling Mughal architecture and young-adult adventurism — that is Grabber by Nirmal Pulickal, co-founder of design firm February, and his tween son, Jehan Zachary. When a monster dominated the sketchpad of a school assignment, Pulickal and Zachary decided to give it an origin story and a name: Grabber.

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The narrative is led by 12-year-old Nuru, son of his village’s leader. A night of the blood moon brings with it prophesied doom: the ghostly rebirth of all the workers who built the Black Taj Mahal, twin to the one in Agra. The workers’ hands were chopped off and now they swear vengeance on all who live. Nuru takes it upon himself to stop the grave disaster underlying this centuries-old violence.

Grabber is a twist on a familiar formula of urban legends. Where it differs is in the darkness and maturity of its lead characters. Nuru is at odds with the authority figures in his life — as is usual for most young-adult protagonists — but has a touch of self-doubting humility, something teenagers take time to grow into. He is joined by Mumtaz, a ghost from the Taj Mahal (and a tongue-in-cheek hat tip to the tomb’s original inhabitant), who assumes the role of the wizened mentor to Nuru. Also present: Jack, a grizzly soldier who wants nothing to do with anything, a reluctant participant in the adventure. He is an interesting counterpoint to the more benevolent presences of Nuru and Mumtaz. Jack often offers arguments to Nuru’s way of doing things.

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The imagery employed in the prose is sometimes gory, which will muddy the palatability for a young audience. But since it is spare, and only when crucial to the story’s emotional momentum, it can be overlooked. The writing is screenplay-ready — accessible and speedy for young-adult audiences. There are ample action sequences and moments of suspense which add to the strongly visual nature of the story, aided by a series of evocative sketches that punctuate the chapters.

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