Welcome back to our book review section. The book I’m reviewing this time is the middle-grade novel The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman. My hope is that this will be an interactive review, so if you have read The Bridge Home, please post your thoughts in the comments. If you know of a middle-grader who has read it, I would also love to hear their comments. Why? Well, I’m a bit on the fence with this one. Not in terms of how it is written; I think it’s fantastic. What I’m trying to determine is whether it would be a suitable gift for my cousin’s very sensitive 11-year-old daughter.
The Bridge Home is set in Chennai, India, and told in the form of a letter from 11-year-old Viji to her sister, Rukku. Initially, the letter details their time together on the streets of Chennai after running away from home to escape their abusive father. Life on the streets is hard but Viji and Rukku form a strong bond with two homeless boys and they work together to make ends meet. During this time Viji learns more about herself and Rukku, the older but more vulnerable sister. After Rukku dies, Viji’s letter becomes a way for her to come to terms with her life without Rukku in it.
During the writing of The Bridge Home, Venkatraman called on her own experiences as a child watching her mother work with less privileged children. As an adult, she visited schools in India where homeless children are offered support and assistance. She also drew on first-hand accounts and her own journal entries, and based the characters in her book on children she knew. Her experiences and research are evident on every page.
The overall topic is depressing and distressing, however, Venkatraman provides moments of levity: puppy antics, the eating of an orange, beadwork, the ocean. Publishers Weekly calls The Bridge Home “a poignant portrait of love, sacrifice, and chosen family in the midst of poverty”. I couldn’t have said it better.
If you have read The Bridge Home, please let me know your thoughts in the comments, particularly around its suitability for a sensitive 11-year-old. I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say.