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The Bridge Home

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Bridge Home Book Poster Image
Heartbreak, hope in fierce story of homeless kids in India.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lots about India, including different religions practiced there, food, language, culture -- including caste system. An author's note explains that millions of children in India alone are homeless, but it's a global problem.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about courage, friendship, kindness, family, making your own if you have to, helping each other, looking out for each other, importance of everyone's talents and gifts, and how sometimes you help other people by letting them help you.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Viji shows courage, determination, independence as she takes charge of her disabled sister's life and her own. Rukku may be awkward and childlike, but her love for Viji sustains both of them. Their friends and adopted brothers Arul and Muthu help them survive and form loving family. Some adults are abusive and dangerous, but others, like Celina Aunty, who helps street children, and some of the rich people, are helpful, supportive, kind.

Violence

The girls flee an abusive home where their father beats their mother and is starting to beat them. In city, kids face many dangers, some die. Others tell of being beaten, enslaved, abused. A boy tells how a tsunami killed his whole family. Girls' mother has raised them to fear hospitals; she says they'll lock up developmentally disabled Rukku in an institution. The kids sleep in a graveyard at one point.

Sex

Drunken man takes unseemly interest in tween girl.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Viji and Rukku's father beats their mother when he's drunk. Another drunken man threatens the kids.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Padma Venkatraman's The Bridge Home is a novel based on stories of real homeless kids in India. It deals with many harrowing subjects in the voice of 11-year-old narrator Viji, who flees her village for the city of Chennai with her developmentally disabled 12-year-old sister, Rukku, when their abusive father starts to beat them. Proud to support themselves, the girls face overwhelming dangers: starvation, disease, violent people, and more. But they also find kindness and friendship, and form a family of their own with two boys about their own age plus a cute stray dog they rescue. A lot of heavy subjects are packed into this story, including abusive families, sacrifice, death and loss, economic disparity, religious differences, and disability. A man beats his wife when he's drunk. The sisters meet kids who tell stories of being beaten, enslaved, and abused. A boy tells how a tsunami killed his whole family. Narrator Viji's voice is determined, spirited, and appealing -- even when she's dealing with things no kid her age should have to.

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What's the story?

In THE BRIDGE HOME, 11-year-old Viji and her 12-year-old developmentally disabled sister, Rukku, flee their abusive father and their village in India for the city, where they find friendship and shelter by pitching a makeshift tent atop an abandoned bridge. Soon, like millions of other homeless kids in that part of the world, they're spending their days slogging through piles of trash hoping to find something they can sell to stay alive. With two boys about their age and a stray dog they've rescued, they form their own family, help each other, and have a lot of pride. But danger is everywhere, from violent people to disease and injury.

Is it any good?

Spirited tween narrator Viji tells a harrowing tale of love, loss, and looking out for each other as homeless kids in India face appalling hardship with dreams and determination. Drawing from the real stories of the street kids the author's mother worked with in her native country, The Bridge Home finds vulnerable kids struggling to survive amid violence, disease, dirt, and deprivation -- and also moments of sweetness and unexpected kindness. Some sensitive readers may find it too intense, but Viji's engaging, determined voice and refusal to give up will appeal to many, and her struggles will inspire empathy.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories that take place in India, like The Bridge Home. What others have you read? How do they compare with this one? What do you find intriguing about India? How is it treated in stories?

  • Viji and Rukku's family belong to a low caste, which adds to their troubles. What do you know about the caste system in India, and the effect it has on people's lives? Do you see similar things happening in your own culture and community?

  • In the story, a rich girl convinces Viji to accept a gift of food because it allows the rich girl to do a good deed, and so Viji is actually doing her a favor. Have you ever let somebody do something for you and had it turn out that you were actually doing something for them? What happened?

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