"Through market lanes crammed with too many people, dogs, and rickshaws, past stalls that smell of cardamom and sizzling oil, below a smoggy sky that doesn't let through a single blade of sunlight, and all the way at the end of the Purple metro line lies a jumble of tin-roofed homes where nine-year-old Jai lives with his family. From his doorway he can spot the glittering lights of the city's fancy high-rises, and though his mother works as a maid in one, to him they seem a thousand miles away.
"When a classmate goes missing, Jai decides to use the crime-solving skills he has picked up from TV to find him and asks Pari and Faiz to be his assistants. Together they draw up lists of people to interview and places to visit. But what begins as a game turns sinister as other children start disappearing from their neighborhood. Jai, Pari, and Faiz have to confront terrified parents, an indifferent police force, and rumors of soul-snatching djinns. As the disappearances edge ever closer to home, the lives of Jai and his friends will never be the same again."
I love when a book immerses you in another place and culture, and this book definitely does that. I loved all the Hindi words like bhoot, hatta-katta, and theek-thaak that peppers Anappara's prose. And her vivid descriptions of the people and the slums where Jai and his friends live and work and play really pulled me into the story. Their poverty was both eye-opening, and heart-breaking. And nine-year-old Jai, and his earnest but naive investigation into his friends' disappearances, tugged at my heart, as did the little stray dog, Samosa, he finds along the way. This is a story of children--children struggling to go to school who dream of a different life but are unlikely to get it, street children, children from poor but loving families, and children from not-so-loving families, Hindu children, and Muslim children. Anappara does a good job of capturing all their stories. There are even protective ghosts watching over the basti. I liked their stories, too. Though in the end, they didn't do a very good job of protecting any of the children.
This book is funny, moving, poignant, compelling, sad, deftly told, and utterly unforgettable. I loved it, even though there were many times it made me want to cry. It's not always an easy story to read, but I'm so glad I did. I'm especially glad I got to read it with Melody! Be sure to check out her review.
Melody's questions to me...and my answers:
1. What struck you most about this story?
I think the plight of children in India is what struck me the most; the author said she drew from her own experiences living in India and interviewing children to write this book, and what struck her about all their stories was their humor and cheerfulness and resilience in the face of extreme poverty and tough life situations.
2. Do you wish there's a sequel to this book? Why or why not?
I would LOVE it if the author wrote a sequel about Jai and his friends. I'd love to know what happens to him next and what he becomes. But anything she writes next I will be reading.