The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman

The Bridge Home

Padma Venkatraman, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, Feb. 5, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Themes: Runaways, Homelessness, Survival, India, Friendship, Social issues, Hope

Opening: Talking to you was always easy, Rukku. But writing’s hard.

Synopsis:

Life is tough on the teeming streets of Chennai, India, as runaway sisters Viji and Rukku quickly discover. For cautious-minded Viji, this is not a surprise — but she hadn’t realized just how vulnerable she and her sister would actually feel in this uncaring, dangerous world.

Fortunately, the girls find shelter — and friendship — on an abandoned bridge that’s also the hideout of Muthi and Arul, two homeless boys. The four of them soon form a family of sorts, sharing food and supplies and laughing together about the absurdities of life. And while making their living scavenging the city’s trash heaps is the pits, the kids find plenty to take pride in, too. After all, they are now the bosses of themselves — and are truly hoping to keep it that way…

Padma Venkatraman’s moving survival story brings to light the obstacles faced by young people in many parts of the world, and is inspired by children she met during her years in India. Her heroic characters will touch readers with their perseverance and unwavering love for each other.

Why I love this book:

Padma Venkatraman’s passionate, heartbreaking and hopeful novel sheds light on the extreme poverty of four homeless children in India. Her powerful storytelling and vivid imagery, draws readers into their extraordinary journey. The setting is culturally rich. Venkatraman is a lyrical writer and there are many poetic turns of phrase. The novel is a beautiful love letter written by Viji to her sister, Rukku.

The four heroic children in the story are homeless for different reasons and will touch reader’s hearts. Viji and Rukku bravely flee an abusive and alcoholic father.  Arul’s parents are killed in accident. Muthu’s stepbrother sells him into child labor. Other street children are abandoned on streets or dumped in orphanages. Viji is protective of Rukku, her developmentally challenged sister.

The plot is dangerous and suspenseful, making this story a page turner. Life may be harsh for this four-some as they scale the garbage heaps, but it also shows their resilience, sense of adventure, deep friendship and hope. The richness of their close relationship makes this story shine brightly, even in the face of adversity. They are brothers and sisters. “We’re not just friends, we’re family,” says Arul. 

There are lighter moments when Rukku befriends a stray puppy, she names Kutti. Rukku doesn’t like sifting through garbage and sits beneath a tree stringing beads into intricate necklaces. Her jewelry brings a nice profit in the local markets and helps feed their family. Viji also begins to see what her sister can do, rather than what she can’t do. I love these uplifting moments.

Growing up in India, Venkatraman’s memories of starving children provide the inspiration for her novel, The Bridge Home.  Her story is well-researched and she draws her story from the tales of the children she meets while doing volunteer work with her mother at respectable children’s homes and schools. Most important, I love that she writes about a culture she knows so well. I hope we see more uplifting novels from her in the future.

Padma Venkatraman was born in India and became an American after living in five countries and working as an oceanographer. She is also the author of A Time to Dance, Island’s End, and Climbing the Stairs. Visit her at her website. I highly recommend her other novels.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors

*Purchased copy.

The Sky at Our Feet by Nadia Hashimi

The Sky at Our Feet

Nadia Hashimi, Author

Harper Collins, Fiction, Mar. 6, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 291

Themes: American-Afghani boy, Undocumented immigrant parent, Family Relationships, Runaways, Epilepsy, Courage, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Jason has just learned that his Afghan mother has been living illegally in the United States since his father was killed in Afghanistan. Although Jason was born in the US, it’s hard to feel American now when he’s terrified that his mother will be discovered—and that they will be separated.

When he sees his mother being escorted from her workplace by two officers, Jason feels completely alone. He boards a train with the hope of finding his aunt in New York City, but as soon as he arrives in Penn Station, the bustling city makes him wonder if he’s overestimated what he can do.

After an accident lands him in the hospital, Jason finds an unlikely ally in a fellow patient. Max, a whip-smart girl who wants nothing more than to explore the world on her own terms, joins Jason in planning a daring escape out of the hospital and into the skyscraper jungle—even though they both know that no matter how big New York City is, they won’t be able to run forever.

Why I like this book:

Nadia Hashimi has skillfully penned a moving and sensitive tale about two brave teens on the run in New York City (NYC) when difficult circumstances uproot their lives. Their amusing adventure through the Big Apple showcases the city’s character with its subways, NYC Marathon, Central Park Zoo, food trucks, and police officers on horses.

The characters are authentic and believable. Jason’s strong narrative highlights/underscores the dilemma for children of undocumented immigrant families. He witnesses his mother being arrested by police at work because she didn’t renew her visa and is an illegal immigrant. What will happen to him? He sneaks into their apartment, packs his backpack, and embarks on a journey to find his Auntie Seema in NYC.

Jason blacks out in the train station and wakes up in a hospital with a head injury. There he meets Max, a girl who is smart and artful in helping Jason dodge a police officer’s questioning. She’s trapped like an inmate in her hospital prison and longs to experience a big adventure before she undergoes a major surgery. Together they plot an epic hospital escape and navigate the streets evading police officers.

The author sets aside the political aspects involved in deportation of decent immigrant parents and their American children. Instead she focuses on the emotional and physical impact on a teen like Jason. His fear that his mother may be sent back to Afghanistan forever, is daunting. How is a Muslim boy in America supposed to cope with something so big? His mother hasn’t created a plan for Jason if she’s arrested. He’s left to his own resources to find Auntie Seema.

The plot is original and courageous with moments of humor, action, danger, and suspense that will keep readers quickly turning pages. When Max has a seizure along the way, Jason is challenged to find the way on his own. This is an engaging read about current and thought-provoking issues. It is also heartwarming and hopeful and a good choice for classroom discussions.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

Book: Library copy.

The Great Good Summer

Great Good Summer 51pFkPl3l2L__SX334_BO1,204,203,200_The Great Good Summer

Liz Garton Scanlon, Author

Beach Lane Books, Fiction, May 5, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Runaways, Mothers and daughters, Absent mother, Family and Faith, Adventure, Friendship, Forgiveness

Pages: 213

Opening: “God is alive and well in Loomer, Texas, so I don’t know why Mama had to go all the way to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida to find him, or to find herself, either.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Ivy Green’s summer has gone all topsy-turvy since her mama ran off to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida with a charismatic preacher who calls himself Hallelujah Dave.

Hallelujah Dave, for goodness sake.

Ivy’s been left behind with her daddy and with the painful mystery of her missing mama. It’s no wonder she starts to lose faith in nearly everything she’s always counted on.

Meanwhile, Ivy’s friend Paul Dobbs is having a crummy summer too. The Space Shuttle program’s been scrapped, and Paul’s dream of being an astronaut look like it will never get off the ground. So Ivy and Paul hatch a secret plan to set things right and maybe, just maybe, reclaim their faith in the things in life that are most important.

Why I like this book:

Liz Garton Scanlon’s emotional and heartfelt story is a timely story for teens with realistic issues like parental betrayal and abandonment. It is also a lovely coming of age story as Ivy Green is pressed to rely on her own inner resources and an unwavering faith to track her mother from Texas to Florida. She sets off on a secret adventure with her best friend, Paul Dobbs, who is logical and obsessed with science and space. While their mission is to find Ivy’s mother and bring her home, they also plan to visit the Kennedy Space Center.

The plot is strong and complex, deftly interweaving the lives of two very good friends, Ivy and Paul. It is packed with so much suspense (one-way bus tickets, thugs that steal Ivy’s money, a jail visit) that it moves along rather quickly. The text is smart and polished. And, you have to love that cover!

Ivy is a strong and smart character, with a believable voice. She is the perfect narrator because she doesn’t hold back. She’s not afraid to ask tough questions, weave a few lies, stand up to her father, tell people off,  handle the truth and learn to forgive. Paul is the opposite of Ivy. He’s a dreamer, but offers a level-headed balance to Ivy’s impatience. Their friendship is honest and moving.

I was concerned the book would be heavy on a debate between religion and science, but it turns out that’s not what the story is about. The discussions between Ivy, who has faith and Paul, who only believes in science, add for some really great conversations that tie everything together at the end.  And it opens room for discussions among readers. The story does give readers a sense of Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie. Verdict: This is an excellent summer read for tweens and teens.

Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of many celebrated picture books, including Happy Birthday, Bunny!, Noodle & Lou, and All the World. The Great Good Summer is her first novel. Visit her at her website.