The Bridge to Home by Padma Venkatraman (9781524738112)
When her abusive father starts to hit Viji and her sister, Rukku, as well as their mother, Viji takes Rukku and runs away to the streets of Chennai. Rukku follows willingly, though Viji worries that when others see Rukku they will take her away due to her developmental delays. The two sisters meet two boys who also live on the streets and the four of them form a small family. During the day, they pick garbage in the litter piles and mountains around the city. Rukku makes bead necklaces that they sell to tourists and students. The four children are hungry and scared often, but they also have wonderful adventures together whether they are living on an abandoned bridge or in a dark and hidden graveyard. When Rukku falls ill, Viji must figure out if she can care for her herself or if she needs to take a big risk and ask for help.
Venkatraman has created a tale that doesn’t soften the dangers and difficulties of children living on the streets of India. At the same time though, she doesn’t allow the story to be dismal, instead she shows how the smallest things can give joy. Just the inclusion of the puppy into the children’s lives adds an element of love and cuddling that the book needed. The setting of India and its streets is brilliantly shared in the book, that includes the dark dangers of those who steal from them and the predator adults they encounter.
The two sisters are very different from one another not just because of Rukku’s disability but also their outlook at life is in contrast to one another. Viji takes the role of protector for her sister, doing the hard and dirty work. Yet, Rukku manages to sometimes make more money for the group and also serves as the person who brings them together over and over again. The two boys are almost like siblings themselves, as the book progresses, they share their stories which are haunting as well.
A beautifully written novel for middle graders that shines light on children often overlooked. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.