The Bridge Home

208p. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. Feb. 2019. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781524738112.
RedReviewStarGr 4–6—In her stellar middle grade debut, Venkatraman (A Time to Dance) brings compassionate attention to the plight of India's homeless children. Fleeing their father's physical abuse, sisters Viji and Rukku end up on the harsh streets of the city of Chennai. Eleven-year-old Viji is younger by one year, but Rukku's unspecified developmental delays put Viji in charge of their survival. Seeking shelter on a crumbling bridge, Viji finds two homeless boys, Muthi and Arul, who are willing to share what little they have. The four children become a fiercely devoted family, armed with nothing more than resourcefulness and Viji's faith that their fortunes will improve one day. Despite their determination, hunger and sickness eventually take their toll on the children: Viji's hopefulness falters when one of her steadfast promises to Rukku cannot be kept. The sisters' bond provides both the narrative's heart and its structure. Viji writes the novel as if talking to Rukku, words that comfort her just as the fairy tales Viji told every night on the bridge lifted their spirits. Characters grow along with their newfound autonomy; Rukku demonstrates skills overprotective Viji never recognized. Muthi and Arul begin to believe they have a future. Venkatraman's depiction of the streets of Chennai is a sensory experience. Her elegant prose tells a heartfelt, wholly captivating story while encouraging readers to consider larger issues including religion, poverty, and the caste system.
VERDICT An unforgettable tale of families lost, found, and moving ahead without leaving those they love behind.

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