Once There Was (Hardcover)
May/June 2023 Kids Indie Next List
“With a mixture of Persian fairy tales, mystery, magic, friendship, grief, and a pinch of romance, Monsef explores fantasy in a way that is grounding and entertaining. Perfect for fans of fractured fairy tales and mythical creatures.”
— Emma Butler, The Briar Patch, Bangor, ME
This smartly written masterful mashup of mythology, modern veterinary practice, and murder mystery makes for a truly riveting adventure-- from noble griffons and declawed manticores to a unicorn like none you've read about before, this book will astound at every turn. All the varied nuances of grief, BIPOC issues in the schoolyard, and professional responsibility are deftly handled, adding nuance and unexpected depth to an already fantastic tale. -Recommended by Lauren— From Staff Picks for Kids and Teens
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them meets Neil Gaiman in this “striking and heartfelt” (Kirkus Reviews) novel about an Iranian American girl who discovers that her father was secretly a veterinarian to magical creatures—and that she must take up his mantle, despite the many dangers.
Once was, once wasn’t.
So began the stories Marjan’s father told her as a little girl—fables like the story of the girl who sprung a unicorn from a hunter’s snare, or the nomad boy who rescued a baby shirdal. Tales of mythical beasts that filled her with curiosity and wonder.
But Marjan’s not a little girl anymore. In the wake of her father’s sudden death, she is trying to hold it all together: her schoolwork, friendships, and keeping her dad’s shoestring veterinary practice from going under. Then, one day, she receives a visitor who reveals something stunning: Marjan’s father was no ordinary veterinarian. The creatures out of the stories he told her were real—and he traveled the world to care for them. And now that he’s gone, she must take his place.
Marjan steps into a secret world hidden in plain sight, where magical creatures are bought and sold, treasured and trapped. She finds friends she never knew she needed—a charming British boy who grew up with a griffon, a runaway witch seeking magic and home—while trying to hide her double life from her old friends and classmates.
The deeper Marjan gets into treating these animals, the closer she comes to finding who killed her father—and to a shocking truth that will reawaken her sense of wonder and put humans and beasts in the gravest of danger.
— Horn Book Magazine
The detailed visual descriptions clearly conjure up the enchanting world Monsef has created, one populated by expressive, surreal beings, each of which has its own backstory.
A striking and heartfelt debut.
— Kirkus Reviews