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THE BRIDGE HOME

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 1 year, 2 months ago

28 March 2019 THE BRIDGE HOME by Padma Venkatraman, Penguin Random House/Nancy Paulsen, February 2019, 208p., ISBN: 978-1-5247-3811-2

 

“I can open your eyes

Take you wonder by wonder

Over sideways and under

A magic carpet ride”

-- Tim Rice & Alan Menken, “A Whole New World” (1992)

 

“I found a relatively rubble-free patch of ground and spread out our sheet. Not that it made the ground any softer.

‘Amma,’ you said, and looked all around us, as though our mother might pop out of the river and fly up through a hole in the bridge. ‘Amma?’

I put my arms around you, but you kept crying her name.

Kutti snuggled up to you, and you clutched one of his paws. He didn’t seem to mind.

Hugging him close, like you used to hug your doll, you finally lay down on our sheet. ‘Story?’

Maybe hearing the familiar words would help take your mind off Amma. And my mind off the bumpy ground.

Not wanting the boys to overhear, I lowered my voice to a whisper. ‘Once upon a time, two sisters ruled a magical land.’

‘Viji and Rukku,’ you put in.

‘Yes. Us. We used to be princesses, the two of us. We slept on soft pink pillows in a beautiful palace. Every morning we’d wake to the sound of birds singing and the sight of peacocks dancing. White lotuses shone bright as stars in the lake at the center of our green garden. From this lake, a silver stream slipped out beyond our palace gates into the rest of our kingdom.

No one in our kingdom was ever thirsty, because everyone could drink from that sparkling stream. And no one in our kingdom was cruel. Grown-ups never fought, and every child had all the dolls and toys they ever wanted.’”

 

That books take young readers to new worlds is a generations-old librarian pitch. But the degree to which I found myself immersed in the perilous and oft-whimsical world of the four young characters in THE BRIDGE HOME has me recalling how well-written books do, indeed, transport us. And transform us.

 

Pre-teen sisters Viji and Rukku endure a drunken, abusive father until the point when he first breaks their mother’s arm and then beats them. Before dawn, Viji packs up what little they have and coaxes the intellectually-disabled Rukku to quietly leave with her. They ride a bus to the city and become runaways on the streets of India. Fortunately, they meet Arul and Muthu, two runaway boys living on an abandoned bridge. Along with Kutti, a stray dog that Rukku adopts, the four children become like family.

 

They eke out a living as ragpickers. They live in makeshift shelters, first on the bridge and, later, in an unkempt graveyard. They evade adult predators. Rakku’s talent for beading necklaces and the goodwill of a few adults help them to survive. Barely. Until, finally, the elements, the filth, the mosquitoes, and the untreated water combine to create a life-and-death crisis.

 

I’ve never been to India. But now, thanks to Padma Venkatraman, I’ve walked its streets, stopped at a tea shop, endured the rains, and trod through mountains of malodorous trash.

 

THE BRIDGE HOME is one of the truly notable children’s books of 2019.

 

Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Pickshttp://richiespicks.pbworks.com

https://www.facebook.com/richiespicks/

richiepartington@gmail.com

 

 

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