The Spider Ring, by Andrew Harwell (Scholastic, January 2015) is the story of a girl named Maria Lopez, an ordinary book-loving seventh grader whose life is transformed when she inherits a ring from her grandmother that allows her to control spiders. Her grandmother has also taught her to regard spider in a friendly fashion, so when legions of spider enter her life, she is not utterly horrified. It helps that the spiders are helpful--finding her glasses, making her beautiful dresses, helping her revenge herself on a mean classmate.
But Maria's ring is one of eight (each for a different spider species), and an evil woman is seeking to gather the power of all eight together to take all their magic for herself. Maria will have to use all the spider force she has at her command to foil her plot....but fortunately, Maria's grandmother has also passed on a message from her days a circus lion tamer-- you can train an animal to be obedient, but only one who is your friend will help you in the end. And it is this maxim, applied to the spiders, that ultimately saves Maria from falling under the evil thrall of the spider rings herself.
It was with some trepidation that I approached the book, because although I myself am kindly disposed to spiders, and have raised my own children to be blasé about them, the book sounded like spider horror, with slightly too many legs and eyes for my taste (one spider is just fine, thousands of spiders is too many!)--Kirkus says the book "all but oozes spiders" which is an unpleasing image. But while there is considerable spiderness, with some spider ick (enough so that anyone freaked out by spiders will indeed by horrified), it is nicely balanced by the more quotidian story of Maria as a person, grieving for her grandmother, struggling to navigate the social pitfalls of seventh grade, and trying hard not to just run away when things go bad.
The result was that I enjoyed the reading of this one more than I expected to, and happily recommend it to kids who like Dark Magic interfering with normal life (as long as they aren't the sort of kids who think all spiders should be vacuumed up on sight).
Based on Maria's last name (Maria's cultural background isn't an issue in the book, except for a bit of European backstory about her grandparents and how her grandmother became a lion tamer), I'm adding this to my list of multicultural sci fi/fantasy.
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.