Middle Grade Review: The Bridge Home

The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman

Genre: Middle Grade
Maturity Level: 3
(Content Warning: child abuse)
View on Goodreads
Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

When Viji and her sister, Rukku, whose developmental disability makes her overly trusting and vulnerable to the perils of the world, run away to live on their own, the situation could not be more grim. Life on the streets of the teeming city of Chennai is harsh for girls considered outcasts, but the sisters manage to find shelter on an abandoned bridge. There they befriend Muthi and Arul, two boys in a similar predicament, and the four children bond together and form a family of sorts. Viji starts working with the boys scavenging in trash heaps while Rukku makes bead necklaces, and they buy food with what little money they earn. They are often hungry and scared but they have each other–and Kutti, the best dog ever. When the kids are forced from their safe haven on the bridge, they take shelter in a graveyard. But it is now the rainy season and they are plagued by mosquitos, and Rukku and Muthu fall ill. As their symptoms worsen, Viji and Arul must decide whether to risk going for help–when most adults in their lives have proven themselves untrustworthy–or to continue holding on to their fragile, hard-fought freedom.

The Bridge Home is the middle-grade book that I didn’t know I needed. Slumdog Millionaire for kids. Unfortunately my enjoyment of it and connection with it was ruined by a bad copy that was missing probably twenty pages scattered throughout the last quarter of the novel. All emotional moments interrupted, and I had to guess what was happening. But from what I did read it seems like a FANTASTIC book.

This book was well-crafted, especially if you’re into gentle, thoughtful writing. The content of this book is difficult, girls fleeing from an abusive family situation only to become homeless on the streets of Chennai where they starve and fall ill. But the harsh facts are softened by Venkatraman’s sweet style. Love gushes off the page.

It was unusual to read a book written in second person, but Venkatraman made it work beautifully. It makes context within the story and really flows. Though strange to me, I look forward to see if my students find it off-putting or confusing.

Viji was a pretty standard MG protagonist, but I loved her sister, Rukku. Not only is it refreshing to find a character with such an obvious disability in MG fiction, but I love the way the narrative constantly challenges everyone’s expectations for her. Venkatraman makes it clear, Rukku is a kind, complex person just like everyone else, and she is capable of just as much as we are, maybe more. Viji and Rukku’s relationship is so caring, and I love their found family.

American children may benefit from some background knowledge about Indian cities before starting this book. The caste system, child labor, the trash industry, and slums are all unfamiliar to them, but the book is written in such a way that assumes their understanding. It would make a great child-adult buddy read with Behind the Beautiful Forevers. There are a lot of similar themes and circumstances, and having an adult to help them navigate an unfamiliar culture may help them understand. But that support definitely isn’t required. Kids will enjoy this book on its own, though they may assume it’s historical fiction or a fictional world.

Highly recommend for libraries or families looking to diversify their reading experiences.

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