No Ordinary Day by Deborah Ellis
Valli picks up coal every day at her home town of Jharia, India. But when she discovers that the family she is staying with is not her real family, she is free to leave their abuse and fend for herself. She hops aboard a coal truck and ends up in Kolkata on the streets. There she “borrows” items that she needs, giving them to others who need them more when she is finished with them. She eats by begging for food and money or doesn’t eat much at all. Valli has one super power, she has feet that feel no pain. So she can stand on hot coals, run across glass, and never feel the wounds. But this is not a real super power, it is leprosy. A kind doctor discovers Valli and offers treatment, though it is some time before Valli is able to trust her. This powerful read speaks to the horrors of poverty, the brutality of life on the streets, and one remarkable young girl who survives it all.
Ellis is known for her powerful writing and this book definitely has that. The book could have become dark and depressing in less skilled hands, but Ellis through the spunky Valli keeps the book moving forward and keeps the viewpoint optimistic. Yet Ellis does not shy away from harsh realities of life on the streets and being an unwanted child in a family. It is Valli who makes this book work so well, her vitality shines on every page.
Ellis handles the subject of leprosy with a delicacy and honesty that is heartwarming. Valli responds to the lepers she meets as “monsters,” but she and the reader learn that there is nothing to fear. Valli sees the people behind their deformities and the reader will too.
A powerful and outstanding book, this tough subject is written at a level that will invite young readers into a world they had never realized existed. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
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