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Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Diversity in Literature, Middle Grade Readers

THE BRIDGE HOME by Padma Venkatraman

The Bridge Home is Viji’s story.  Viji is eleven and her sister, Rukku, is a year older.  They live in Chennai, India with their mother and father.  Viji’s father is often angry and violent.  When her father’s brutality toward her mother spills over onto Viji and her sister, Viji makes the decision run away. Rukku is developmentally disabled and therefore Viji feels she must take Rukku with her in order to keep her safe.  Viji dreams of becoming a teacher and living in a place where she and Rukku will be safe. She is convinced she will be able to provide that if they can just get away from their father.

Of course, Viji has gravely underestimated the obstacles she will encounter living on the streets in the city.  Viji and Rukku proceed with Viji’s plan. They suffer hunger, illness, homelessness.  They encounter many people–some kind, some cruel.  They meet two young boys–Muthu and Arul– on the bridge where they find shelter on their first night in the city.  Muthu and Arul, already living on the streets, join Viji and Rukku.  The boys help to show them some of the things they have learned about how to survive on the streets.  The four children grow close and as they interact with each other, sharing their personal stories and ideas, each of them begins to see new things in herself/himself.

Viji’s story is emotional and heartbreaking. The Bridge Home is a good choice for a read-aloud at home.  Due to some of the content in Viji’s story it would be difficult to read aloud in a classroom where you have so many children in different places developmentally.  The content is also the reason why I would suggest reading it with your child, or at least reading it before or at the same time and checking in with him/her as you read.

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