This week on my top reads roundup, we have the emotional and moving novel from Padma Venkatraman. I picked up this book on a whim during one of my library hauls, and I’m incredibly glad I did. This book is an incredibly insightful story for readers of all ages that explores the hardships and perils of children in crisis.
I will say this, if you ever cry in books, this one will certainly get you. Picking up a book that promises survival struggle and found family, I knew I was in for trouble and I certainly got it. But even with my big, red, weepy eyes, I can’t recommend this book enough.
What’s the Book?
The Bridge Home centers on the young and ever-protective big sister Viji. Viji is constantly aware of the needs of her developmentally disabled little sister Rukku and would do anything to keep her from harm. And Viji’s work is certainly cut out for her. When it becomes clear that the sister’s home life is as dangerous as it is hopeless, Viji makes the bold decision to take her sister and run, starting a new life for them on the streets of Chennai.
As the sisters struggle to forge a life for themselves, they join forces with two boys and build a home for themselves under a city bridge. They work by day and keep careful watch for danger by night. In time the sisters and young boys have a feeling of family once again and Viji believes that she may be able to provide for her sister the way she’s always dreamed. But threats are closing in on the sisters, and some dangers are too great for even Viji to keep Rukku from.
Why It’s a Top Ten
This book is an excellent read in that it artfully handles subject material truly difficult to address with tact and heart. Venkatraman's writing style is straightforward yet eloquent, and she speaks to middle-grade readers in a voice that easily relates to their hopes and desires.
Venkatraman’s brilliance in her writing lies in the way she deftly handles difficult material while still painting a picture with beauty, tenderness, and vibrance. She does so through the characters who the girls meet along their journey. All the struggle and danger of Chennai’s streets are on display, but for every instance of hardship and grief, there is someone willing to show the girls compassion and kindness. Whether it’s a woman from a tea shop, a passing student, or a kindly teacher, there are hopeful answers to the cruelty of Viji’s world.
The moments of pain and horror are certainly there, and while she doesn’t shy away from them she also doesn’t make those moments the key beats of the book. It would have been incredibly easy for her to make her book a story focused on the harshness of life and the cruelty of those who thrive in a broken world. Such moments are certainly present in her book and you can’t help but fear for Viji and her little family under the bridge, but that’s not the heart of the book. Instead, Venkatraman chooses to make the moments of kindness, compassion, and rescue the heart of her book. Not only does this lift the tone of the book, but it also reminds readers of the help and hope that can be found in the darkest, most unlikely places. For young readers, this approach is a valuable lesson in not just the trials of life, but the hope we can cling to as well.
The Bridge Home is a tear-jerking, but beautiful story that highlights the beauty and intensity of family love. It’s easy to see oneself in the determined, frightened Viji and the brave young girl’s clear, loving voice echoes our own desires to care for the people we love. Venkatraman’s book treats us to a beautiful and tender story of survival and poses the deeply rooted question, what would you do to keep your family safe?