14 January 2009

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman

Vidya is pretty much a regular fifteen-year-old girl living with her parents and her brother. She has a best friend, she loves playing volleyball, and she works hard in school. But she lives her life in India, oppressed by the British, during the beginning of the Second World War. Her beloved father, appa, is a freedom fighter, a supporter of a nonviolent protest movement against injustice and war. When Vidya excitedly joins a protest one afternoon, appa is beaten by a British police officer and his brain is injured badly. Because the family now lacks financial stability without the male head of the household, they must move to live with appa’s family, who is neither welcoming nor emotionally supporting. Vidya struggles with a new family that isn’t accepting of her, the guilt she feels for what she believes was her part in appa’s injury, and the fear of being arranged in a marriage before she is allowed to attend college. In the midst of all her worries, there is a war going on that seems to creep closer to India every day.

Although not a contemporary setting, this novel speaks of the basic trials of everyday teenage life, using the voice of a very willful and intelligent girl. Vidya struggles to gain a sense of freedom – from her family and her culture – and believes that education is the only thing that will allow her to be independent. Her brother and her new (boy!) friend, Raman, challenge some of her beliefs and force her to look at life from a wider perspective. Overall, the general storyline and storytelling is average; what make this story stand out are the unique historical and cultural setting, along with the depth and honesty portrayed through the character’s voices.

Recommended for middle grade and high school readers.

Call number: YA VENKATRAMAN (Teen Room)

Reviewed by kate the librarian

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