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THE BRIDGE HOME by Padma Venkatraman Winner of Children’s Book Review Lottery!

There were two entrants to my first ever Children’s Book Review Lottery which allowed me the happy instance to be able to review both books. After making out slips for both books and folding them over, all that was left to do was to pick which to review first. Thank you to my son for humoring his mom and picking the first book. THE BRIDGE HOME was his selection.

THE BRIDGE HOME is the story of Rukku and Viji, two sisters, who leave home because of domestic abuse and their struggles to find “home” with all its attached meanings. The story of their journey to survive is woven through with tender moments of joy, love, friendship, compassion, and gratitude. I found the story both heartbreaking and hopeful. Yes, it sounds like, looks like and is an oxymoron, and its quite a good one.

I identified with the character’s of both girls although they and their perspectives were very different. Viji is a realist who holds onto a dream that gives her hope. Her assumed role as caregiver to Rukku, although she’s younger by a year than Rukku, gives her purpose. Viji is constantly on guard against the world and worried about their survival, but devotion to her sister allows Viji to send Rukku off each night with a story to dream on. The nightly story began with Once upon a time two sisters ruled a magical land and ended with Viji and Rukku always together.

Rukku, who is intellectually disabled, lives within the moment, and because of that capacity she can appreciate and find beauty and joy even in the difficulties of the girls’ everyday existence. Rukku finds her purpose when she comes across a stray dog, Kutti and develops confidence in herself when she and Viji meet up with two homeless boys, Arul and Muthu, who share with the girls all they’ve learned about how to survive on the streets. Through their immediate acceptance of her as equal, she becomes comfortable within her own skin. Her worth is further validated when her skill at beading necklaces gains them money enough to buy food and supplies for their tent-home.

The binding friendship which is formed between Viji and Rukku and Arul and Muthu develops so naturally that I as a reader quickly accepted them into Viji’s and Rukku’s story. Arul holds a strong belief in Christianity. It helps him accept day after day of hardship. His spirituality is in opposition to Viji’s atheistic perceptions. Though both are firm in their beliefs and argue their points, they are still able to accept each other’s different beliefs and later in the story share an understanding of each other’s beliefs.

I found myself completely engrossed in Viji, Rukku, Arul, Muthu and Kutti’s story. I had listened to it once after attending a Highlights Webinar that Padma had co-moderated. I enjoyed Padma’s reading of it and could almost hear the different voices she used to express each character’s personality within their dialogue when I read it in print this time. I highly recommend listening to and reading THE BRIDGE HOME. It’s a book that can be read and immediately re-read.