(C) Ages 8-10, (D) Ages 10-12, (E) Ages 12-15, Book Reviews, Discussion Starters, Middle Grades, Multicultural
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The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman

Four homeless children in India find their own “bridge home” in this engaging novel for middle grades.

The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman.  Random House (Nancy Paulsen Books), 2019, 187 pages

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for : ages 10-14

Viji, age ll, sensed trouble on the night her father arrived home late and in a foul mood.  She was used to him hitting her mother and even herself, but when he kicked her little sister Rikku, running away seems the only option. 

But once the two girls get off the bus in Chennai, what then?  Viji has always been the decision-maker and action-taker because Rikku is developmentally disabled—considered slow-witted by those who don’t know her well.  Taking care of both of them in this new situation quickly becomes too much for Viji. Then the sisters fall in with Aral, an orphan, and Muthi, his almost-brother.  The four forge a partnership wherein even Rikku discovers her own gifts and contributes her share.  They might just be able to make it on the street—if not for rivals and predators and the monsoon season on its way.

The story is an engrossing look at the plight of homeless kids, without too much grimness or grit.  The four children quickly become a family, with good humor and good intentions.  Aral, a Christian, tries to shepherd his charges with stories of Jesu and hope of heaven. Viji doesn’t see any reason for religion at all, but when their situation turns dire, might help come from on high?  The story comes to no conclusions about faith except for a sappy contemporary one: “I don’t mind if you have no faith in religion, Viji [says an adult friend].  Just as long as you have faith in the goodness within yourself.”  But it’s worth noting that the people who help most significantly are Christians and the portrayal of childlike doubt and questioning is realistic and worth thinking about (see discussion questions below).

Cautions: One character dies; it’s realistic but might be too much for very sensitive readers.

Overall Rating: 3.75 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 3.5
  • Artistic value: 4

Discussion questions:

  • What would you like to see happen to Viji?
  • How does forgiveness help her at the end?  Is there anyone to forgive her?
  • How do you think the author regards religion in general, and Christianity in particular?
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