Ebook, 256 pages
Expected publication: April 5th, 2016 by Tundra Books
This book is not for the faint of heart. It is presented as Children’s Fiction and YA, but I think it definitely doesn’t qualify as a children’s book. It’s way too raw for that. My recommendation would be 15+ and then only for the tough kids!
“Noor has lived all of her fourteen years in the fifteen lanes of Mumbai’s red light district. Born into a brothel, she is destined for the same fate as her mother: a desperate life trapped in the city’s sex trade. She must act soon to have any chance of escaping this grim future.
Across the sprawling city, fifteen-year-old Grace enjoys a life of privilege. Her father, the CEO of one of India’s largest international banks, has brought his family to Mumbai where they live in unparalleled luxury. But Grace’s seemingly perfect life is shattered when she becomes a victim of a cruel online attack.
When their paths intersect, Noor and Grace will be changed forever. Can two girls living in vastly different worlds find a common path?”
The story is told by alternating between Noor’s and Grace’s point of view. Noor’s opening scene starts with her lying beneath her mother’s bed while she’s entertaining a client. Noor’s mother is a sex worker. You can imagine what that entertainment entails.
Grace’s first scene starts with regular high school problems for someone with no friends, except these take place in an international school in Mumbai where only the rich kids/expats’ kids go to. When Grace becomes the laughing stock of the school due to a very unfortunate incident, she gets even more absorbed into her own world of thoughts and starts cutting herself.
This is the first time I read about this subject in a work of fiction and it’s one of the few mental health issues that I just completely fail to understand. That doesn’t mean I don’t take it seriously, but that I simply cannot grasp what urges someone to cut themselves intentionally. There was a girl in my high school class who had a huge crush on me and carved my initials into her lower arm. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the only cutting she did on herself and I honestly hope that she has gotten some help for this eventually. But I’m digressing, this is Grace’s story.
Compared to Noor, Grace’s life is full of sunshine and roses. Grace has a roof over her head, a bed she can sleep in, plenty of food to eat, a set of loving parents and excellent medical care. Noor has none of these. She still manages to go to a school where no one knows she’s the daughter of a sex worker, and soon becomes the top student in her class. Meanwhile, she has to take care of her younger sister, Aamaal, and her little brother, Shami. Shami has been HIV positive since he was born and is always sick. Noor takes care of him more like he’s her own son instead of her little brother. Shami is really the body of innocence throughout the story line. Every time someone was hurting him, I wanted to open up a giant can of whoop-ass on them.
Living in a poor neighborhood in Kamathipura, Mumbai’s red-light district, means violence and inhumanity lie just around the corner. Which is why, when Noor and Grace finally meet up, I can’t believe how Grace can compare her futile problems to those of Noor. “Everybody hates me at school, yadayadayada.”
Wake up you ignorant twat, you’re talking to a girl who has to sleep on the streets while her baby brother has pneumonia and her best friend is getting gang raped!
Eventually, I do like how their stories intertwine and what comes out of it. I just couldn’t help but think Grace should man up a little. Then again, if school is your life and you have nothing besides that…It just seems like such an insignificant problem compared to the life of the Indian children, especially if you’re reading the stories parallel to each other. Luckily, Grace sees this herself as well at some point: “…seeing Noor’s life had put my own in perspective…”. My note here: “Fucking finally!“.
I absolutely loved Noor. My god, this little woman is just so strong, so smart, and so loving. Taking care of herself, her family and friends while living in the slumps. I know there are a lot of girls out there like Noor who deserve so much better and all the respect the world can give them. By telling Noor’s story, the author told us their stories as well. And she did so in a raw but very beautiful way.
If Grace’s storyline was a bit less cliché and predictable, I would’ve gladly given this book 5 brownies. It made a deep impact on me to read about the children of sex workers in India. And about the sex workers themselves as well, who are often not much older than the children. The author’s note at the end of the book states that she has worked in India herself to help these women. According to Dasra’s research (Dasra being a leading Indian strategic philanthropy organization based in Mumbai), there are an estimated 15 million people in India who have been trafficked into sex work. That’s almost as much as the entire Dutch population!
You can find more information about the women and children of Kamathipura here. I’m definitely planning on making a donation there due to what I read about in this book. These girls need all the help they can get.
An ARC of this book was provided by Tundra Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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