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Once There Was (Hardcover)

Once There Was By Kiyash Monsef Cover Image
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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


A New York Times bestseller!

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them meets Neil Gaiman in this thrilling novel about an Iranian American girl who discovers that her father was secretly a veterinarian to mythical 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 extraordinary 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 mythical 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.

About the Author

Kiyash Monsef is an Emmy Award–nominated producer and director; a writer of short stories, videos, comic books, and games; and a designer of innovative conversational and voice interface experiences. He’s the author of Once There Was.

Praise For…

Marjan Dastani, the daughter of an Iranian immigrant father and an American-born mother (who died when Marjan was seven), has grown up in California with stories that begin, “yeki bood, yeki nabood,” or “once was, once wasn’t.” Those stories “created a place that was real and not real, at the same time,” where the mythical could coexist with the everyday. After her father, a veterinarian, is brutally murdered, fifteen-year-old Marjan finds herself tasked with taking over management of the vet clinic and her father’s crumbling finances. She is summoned to England on a mysterious mission, where she learns that her father was leading a double life: he also specialized in the healing of mythical creatures such as griffons, faeries, and gnomes. As Marjan tries to solve the mystery of who killed her father, she is pulled into a secret network in which these legendary beasts are brokered and sold. She must come face to face with who her father really was and with her own feelings of grief. With its blend of fantasy and mystery, the story slowly ratchets up the suspense. It also poses intriguing ethical questions about the conservation of endangered species and the devastating effects of human intervention on the natural world. A hard-to-put-down book with great appeal to fantasy and mythology fans. JULIE HAKIM AZZAM
— Horn Book

“Once was, once wasn’t.” Kiyash Monsef’s debut novel opens with a fable about a girl who saves a unicorn. It then jumps to current-day Berkeley, where 15-year-old Marjan Dastani struggles to keep her dad’s veterinary clinic afloat while also trying to be a normal high-schooler. Her dad died under mysterious circumstances, and Marjan, now an orphan, has been forced to grow up fast. She is soon called on by a secret society to take her dad’s place and is sent on an adventure to help heal a magical beast. Marjan must navigate this new life and her feelings of anger and abandonment, all while aiding strange creatures like djinns and unicorns. She has also begun uncovering clues to who murdered her father. The fables interweave old lore with the contemporary world to guide Marjan on her journey. The main character is Iranian American, and the story’s themes include mixed-race identity and holding two worlds, as well as grief and loss.
— Booklist

Fifteen-year-old Marjan Dastani discovers hidden family secrets and assumes new responsibilities after her father dies.

Until his murder, Marjan’s Iranian immigrant father was a veterinarian who ran West Berkeley Animal Clinic. Now, the high school sophomore, whose Norwegian American mother died of cancer years earlier, is left trying to run the business. Francesca Wix, her African American neighbor, is now her legal guardian. As Marjan attempts to keep her father’s veterinary practice afloat, she ruminates on her resentment of the demands it made on her father’s time—and is startled to learn that she is part of an ancient lineage tasked with healing mythological creatures. The layers of complex emotional and identity issues Marjan tackles give her character great depth; moments when she reflects on her connection to Persian culture feel natural and raw. The more readers learn about how she helps fantastical animals, the more is revealed about her father and the mystery surrounding his death. Marjan also deals with emotional triggers that do not allow her to bury her feelings, and the exploration of grief will affect readers deeply. 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. (Fantasy. 10-14)
— Kirkus Reviews
Product Details
ISBN: 9781665928502
ISBN-10: 1665928506
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 4th, 2023
Pages: 416
Language: English
Series: Once There Was