The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman – Review by Julie Potvin Kirchner

Sometimes a book comes along and it pulls you in before you read a single word. For me, The Bridge Home, was a book I was highly anticipating because Nancy Paulsen middle grade books never disappoint. I was also super excited to read author Padma Venkatraman’s middle grade novel debut. And then I saw the cover. It took my breath away.

When I settled in and started reading the story I couldn’t come up for air until I finished. I immediately knew this would be a book that would stay with me, a heartprint story that I would need to share with others, a book I would revisit and re-read. There is much to love about this book and I will outline some of what makes this such a special read.

  • The setting is Chennai, India. Padma includes a glossary that assists the reader in better understanding words that may be unfamiliar.
  • Viji and Rukku, two young girls who have run away from home to live in a busy city after their abusive father redirects his rage from their mother to the girls, are characters that wiggle into your heart from the first page. They quickly meet up with two homeless boys, Muthi and Arul, and with the boys’ help the girls find shelter, food, and a way to survive. The four become instant friends and eventually grow to be a loving family.
  • There is a stray dog, named Kutti by Rukku, that becomes an important member of their family. Enough said.
  • As they prepare for sleep at night, Viji calms her sister with beautiful stories of an imaginary kingdom, filled with the comforts and wishes in Viji’s heart. The loving sister bond is inspirational. Viji will do anything to protect her sister, and puts Rukku’s needs above all else.
  • At the beginning of the story, there is a sense that Rukku’s developmental disability makes her vulnerable to the world, and considered “less than” by others. Once they are on their own and the girls settle into their day to day routine in the city, Rukku blossoms and Viji begins to see her sister through new eyes. Viji gains an appreciation for the simple joys Rukku brings to each moment of every day.
  • I couldn’t help but reflect on my personal privileges and assumptions of how best to help those appearing to be in need. Even in the most dire moments, Viji desires to maintain her dignity which is a reasonable want for all people in all situations. We can learn much from these interactions in the story.
  • The deep development of each character gives us pause to consider varied perspectives. As we learn more about their individual stories, we better understand why they approach situations very differently.
  • The secondary characters, while only appearing in a small percentage of the book, evoke strong emotions from the reader. Why couldn’t the adults do better to make life less heart-breaking for these four children? I am still filled with anger, frustration, and disappointment with these secondary characters.
  • The cultural references will resonate deeply with my East Indian students. It is a powerful #OwnVoices story that will be an important part of our collection.
  • Religion is a piece of the storyline and multiple belief traditions are celebrated, including questioning the need for religion. A favorite quote from the advance uncorrected galley that still haunts me, is when Viji says, “It amazes me that there are so many different words to pray with, and so many people praying, but still so much misery and cruelty in the world.”

I was so moved by this book after reading it, I wanted to share it as soon as I could with students. I chose two of my voracious readers and asked them to read and give me feedback on the advance copy I had received. I was fortunate to have permission from their families to share their thoughts as a part of this blog post.

Have you ever had a book that just completely changed your thoughts on something you thought you knew so well by showing you a new perspective? It shakes us up as a community, makes us realize, once again, that we don’t, and can’t possibly know everything. But in the end, it’s knowing the other, hidden side of things, that strengthens us as a whole. This was exactly what was running through my mind when I put down The Bridge Home. This book brought me so much more into our current society, because even though I am from India, which is where this book takes place, and even though I had been there and seen poor people on the streets, it never felt so real until I read this book, and I looked at the world through new eyes. This book gives you more of a consciousness of the world you live in, and I absolutely loved it. Though personally I love books with a happier ending, this one’s ending jostles you up more. The book was so heartfelt, just for writing something so smoothly, Padma Venkatraman should receive an award. This book will stay with me forever. ~ Aaratrika

 

A good book inspires you. It gives you an open mind to many different scenarios and lives. Most of all, a good book can give you a feeling that you will never forget. The Bridge Home does all that and so much more. With losses and gains, The Bridge Home opens any reader’s mind to real things in the world. In so many ways, you can feel for each and every character. Every sentence is filled with details that give you a real description of what is written to be in front of us like it is in front of us. The setting of the book takes place in India, which did you know is the most populated place in the world? It is, and because of that, not everyone has a safe, big, or liveable home. Some don’t have a home at all. The main characters of the story decide to run away, and therefore give up their home. Why would they do such thing? For freedom. This story shows how they struggled to survive. How they created meaningful friendships. How they lost people. And how they lost a life that they will never go back to. To a lot of people, this will break them and seeing kids survive it… is remarkable. Padma Venkatraman has written a powerful story. I guarantee that I will never forget it and a little piece of me will always be with the book. I promise you the same. ~ Ankita

As I read the responses from my students, I was overwhelmed with the way reading The Bridge Home affected their hearts and opened their eyes to the world around them. Books have the power to change us and I am grateful The Bridge Home has been a part of our growth journey. May you also be touched by Viji, Rukku, Muthi, and Arul’s courageous story of inner strength, love, hope, and the blessings of family we choose to call our own.

Julie Potvin Kirchner has been teaching since 1994 and began her career in Wayzata School District in 1997. After many years as a classroom teacher, she began her current position in 2016 as Library Media Specialist at Meadow Ridge Elementary. She is excited to be embarking on a new adventure: LMS at North Woods Elementary, opening in August 2019. Besides reading, her other great passion is travel. She lives with her husband, son, and her reading companion lapdog Sunshine. She is a proud member of #nerdybookclub, #BookVoyage crew, ALA/AASL, and NCTE. You can follow her on Twitter @KirchnerJulie.