by Gloria Whelan
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Leaving Home...forever. Like many girls her age in India, thirteen-year-old Koly is getting married. When she discovers that the husband her parents have chosen for her is sickly boy with wicked parents, Koly wishes she could flee. According to tradition, though, she has no choice. On her wedding day, Koly's fate is sealed.
In the wake of her marriage, however, Koly's life takes an unexpected turn, and she finds herself alone in a strange city of white-sari-clad windows. Her only choice seems to be to shed her name and her future and join the hopeless hordes who chant for food.
Even then, cast out in a current of time-worn tradition, this rare young woman sets out to forge her own exceptional future. And a life, like a beautiful tapestry, comes together for Koly-- one stitch at a time.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
This is the type of story I usually end up liking. I find it fascinating to read about other places and cultures. While this book definitely had strong settings and a good backdrop of cultural traditions, it wasn't as engaging or as complex as I wanted it to be.
Please, dear author, I want some more...
I've read a couple of books now that are set in present-day India (well, this one is sort of current; it was published in 2000, so while we do get glimpses of some modern-day features, it does seem a little bit dated). I thought the author described the setting quite well. I could easily visualize Koly's parents' house, and then the house of her husband's family. The city was a little harder to picture, but I guess all one really needs to know is that it's noisy and crowded (a stark contrast to Koly's earlier village life). Unlike Padma Venkatraman's A Time to Dance, which really could've been set anywhere, Homeless Bird has a very definite Indian flavour to it... especially when it comes to the cultural traditions and social customs. Some of these made me quite angry, as they seemed so old-fashioned and rather sexist. But they are an integral part of the story.
It's all a matter of taste...
I had a difficult time connecting with the characters. I'm not sure if it's because this is a middle-grade title, but I found Koly's narration to be a little bit simplistic and too detached. She's also difficult to relate to. For most of the story, things just happen to her. She doesn't do a lot for herself, and when she does try, she's thwarted by the backward institutions of her society (which she completely buys into, I might add).
I also wasn't impressed with the resolution of the story. Things just fall into place, one by one, and all Koly has to do is just go with it to get her happily ever after. Yes, she had it rough in the first part of the story... but I was expecting a bit more in the way of complication in the last part. As it was, it all seemed a bit too convenient.
Let's get technical...
The writing is simple and a bit too simplistic in places. There are a number of typos and mistakes throughout the text. It wasn't the worst I've read (not even close!) but there were still enough errors to bother me.
I might recommend this one to its intended audience, as it depicts a very different sort of life for a teenage girl, one that Westerners might not be familiar with. But I'm afraid that the pat resolution and the way the main character just floats along on the currents of fate will probably be unsatisfying for older readers.
After the ceremony was over, and the celebration began, there was no chance to see Hari. The women were on one side of the courtyard and the men on the other. The guests seemed interested only in the food. There were potatoes with cumin, chickpeas cooked with onion and ginger, several kinds of curries, and platters of melons and mangoes. Best of all, there was my favorite sweet, coconut cakes. The men ate first, and when it was the women’s turn, the coconut cakes were all gone. I thought it very unfair that a bride should not have a coconut cake on the day of her own wedding.
Overall Rating: 3.13 out of 5 ladybugs