Reviewed by Jean Arboleda
THE BRIDGE HOME
By Padma Venkatraman
208 pages. Nancy Paulsen Books.
The best children’s books are the ones that are not shy to tackle “mature” or sensitive topics while talking to a young audience. There’s not always a happy ending, or a clearly spelled-out lesson. I often feel that the best authors are the ones that have faith in their readers, no matter what age they may be.
Such is the case with Padma Venkatraman’s latest novel The Bridge Home. 11-year-old Viji and her younger sister Rukku run away from home after their abusive father breaks their mother’s arm and hits Rukku. The busy streets of Chennai, India, are not kind to young, penniless, vulnerable girls, and Viji has to stay street smart.
They eventually find shelter in an abandoned bridge, with their dog, Kutti, and two other homeless boys, Muthi and Arul. It’s a tough life, but they are free, with friends that have become like family. Muthi and Arul have been on their own for a while, and they show the girls how to be independent. They teach Viji how to be a “ragpicker” – how to scavenge through the city’s trash heaps for glass and scrap metal to be exchanged for cash. It’s disheartening work for Viji, who dreams of becoming a teacher. Life out on the streets is made even more perilous by predatory old men who are far too interested in the girls, and by the possibility of life-threatening illnesses during the rainy season. It’s up to Viji to make tough decisions for them to survive.
The Bridge Home was drawn from first-hand accounts of underprivileged children that Venkatraman had worked with. It’s a cause that is close to the author’s heart, and it shines through this poignant, thoughtful narrative. The novel is frank about the everyday dangers that homeless children face, but it also shows their courage, resilience, and strength in the face of suffering. Despite everything, there is kindness, and love.
Heartwarming and hopeful, The Bridge Home would be a wonderful addition to any elementary kid’s library.
The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman is available at Fully Booked branches and Fully Booked Online.
Jean will try anything once. She has, at different points in her life, worked in government, interviewed international celebrities, and been the social media manager for several brands. On any given day, she would rather be reading, preferably surrounded by puppies. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @jeanarboleda.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]