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Homeless bird

by Gloria Whelan


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School Library Journal :

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Gr 5-8-Thirteen-year-old Koly's arranged marriage seems a blessing for her impoverished family. Her mother embroiders a wedding sari, while the girl stitches her family memories into a quilt. But when she arrives at the home where, according to custom, she will live for the rest of her life under the supervision of her mother-in-law, she discovers that her 16-year-old husband Hari is gravely ill with tuberculosis. She learns that her dowry was needed to finance a journey to Benares, with the hope that the holy water of the Ganges River will cure him. Hari dies there and she is trapped, a widow with no future. Luckily, her father-in-law recognizes her desire to learn and teaches her to read. A few years later, when he, too, dies, her mother-in-law abandons her in another holy city, Vrindavan. Raji, a young rickshaw driver, helps Koly find a place to live and keeps track of her progress. Eventually, she finds work embroidering saris. Raji has a plan, and a dream. He wants to make enough money to buy seed and tools and return to his village, with Koly as his wife. In a happy ending that suggests that established custom can be challenged in positive ways, she agrees. Whelan has enhanced a simple but satisfying story with loving detail about traditional Indian life, the harsh reality of feudal customs that persist today, and the complexity of cultural change. Readers with a curiosity about other worlds and other ways will find Koly's story fascinating.-Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC

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