Shortlisted for the SYRCA 2013 Diamond Willow Award, selected as an American Library Association 2012 Notable Children's Book, a Booklist Editors’ Choice, nominated for the OLA Golden Oak Tree Award, and a finalist for the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Awards: Young Adult/Middle Reader Award, the Governor General's Literary Awards: Children's Text and the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children Award
There’s not much that upsets young Valli. Even though her days are spent picking coal and fighting with her cousins, life in the coal town of Jharia, India, is the only life she knows. The only sight that fills her with terror are the monsters who live on the other side of the train tracks -- the lepers. Valli and the other children throw stones at them. No matter how hard her life is, she tells herself, at least she will never be one of them.
Then she discovers that she is not living with family after all, that her "aunt" was a stranger who was paid money to take Valli off her own family’s hands. She decides to leave Jharia . . . and so begins a series of adventures that takes her to Kolkata, the city of the gods.
It’s not so bad. Valli finds that she really doesn’t need much to live. She can "borrow" the things she needs and then pass them on to people who need them more than she does. It helps that though her bare feet become raw wounds as she makes her way around the city, she somehow feels no pain. But when she happens to meet a doctor on the ghats by the river, Valli learns that she has leprosy. Despite being given a chance to receive medical care, she cannot bear the thought that she is one of those monsters she has always feared, and she flees, to an uncertain life on the street.
Ellis (the Breadwinner trilogy) again brings an individual humanity to newspaper headlines. Giving voice to an orphan girl living on the streets of Calcutta unaware of her leprosy, Ellis turns a potentially unpalatable subject into a fresh and compelling story that focuses on Valli's spirited personality and sly cleverness. Valli runs away from her poverty-stricken home in the coal town of Jharia, India, when she learns that she is not a true member of the family she lives with. In Calcutta, she learns to survive by "borrowing" what she needs, be it blankets, money, or food. Quick, intelligent, and fearless, Valli is content living day to day until she meets a doctor who takes her for treatment to the hospital, where she finds herself among the "monsters" she feared most in Jharia leprosy-stricken, disfigured people. Refusing to acknowledge she is one of them, she escapes back to the streets, until she finally understands she has the potential to lead a better life. Ellis's straightforward language and uncompromising depictions of Valli's unimaginably harsh and gritty world combine with believable character development to create a strong and accessible novel. Ages 9 12.