By Padma Venkatraman.
Ages 10 to 12.
Two sisters from a village in India make an escape one morning at the start of “The Bridge Home.” Viji and Rukku are running away from their father, who becomes violent when he drinks alcohol. But what dangers might they face in the city?
Viji is 11, a year younger than her sister, but Viji is better able to navigate the world. Viji believes she must protect sweet-natured Rukku from their father as well as from adults who might see only Rukku’s mental challenges and try to lock her away “in a mental institution.”
“The Bridge Home” is written as a letter from Viji to Rukku. From the start, readers know the sisters have been separated, but we have to finish the book to find out why and for how long.
The city of Chennai, India — “an endless flood of vehicles and pedestrians” — does not welcome Viji and Rukku. A man tries to grab them, Rukku loses her precious doll, and the girls don’t have money to pay for shelter or food. Many other children are similarly hungry and homeless, and you wonder if the girls can find allies among the kids or adults in this city.
Author Padma Venkatraman shows how busy Viji’s thoughts are as she tries to figure out how to keep Rukku safe and find people to trust. Viji also notices how Rukku deals with their difficult situation in surprising ways.
“The Bridge Home” shows what dangerous and smelly work many of the city’s homeless children do to survive: scavenging through heaps of garbage for glass and metal. Viji and Rukku become friends with two boys who show them how to find what’s valuable, and they become a family of sorts. Both boys love Viji’s storytelling — how it takes them to other worlds — as much as Rukku does.
Venkatraman doesn’t try to give a fairy tale ending to the sisters’ circumstances; the threats from malnutrition, dirty water and illnesses carried by mosquitoes are very real. “The Bridge Home” instead gives a sense of how important it is to seek out help and friendship.
You might also like . . .
In Lynne Kelly’s “Song for a Whale,” 12-year-old Iris takes on a mission to aid a baleen whale, which may be deaf like she is, as well as half a world away.
Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s “One for the Murphys” follows Carley as she resists and then appreciates her new foster mother as she helps the 12-year-old deal with the rest of the world.
Meet Padma Venkatraman at Hooray for Books in Alexandria, Virginia, on June 21, 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. She will talk about “The Bridge Home” and sign copies of the book.
Next week in book club
By Pete Hautman.
Ages 8 to 12.
Best friends Stuey and Elly Rose share a birthday and a love of the woods near their homes. When playing in their favorite spot deep in the woods, Stuey tells Elly Rose a story — a secret he has learned about his great-grandfather and hers. Something unexpected happens, and Stuey must figure out how to repair the damage that occurred long ago but has worked its way into present day.
Join the club
The Summer Book Club is open to kids ages 6 to 14. Children may read some or all of the books on our list. (Find a blurb for each book at wapo.st/kidspostbookclublaunch2019.) The first 500 kids registered will receive a snap watch. To join the club, children must be registered by a parent or guardian. To register, that adult must fill out our form at wapo.st/kidspostbookclub2019 or send their email, the child’s first and last names, age and address to KidsPost Summer Book Club, The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071.