Monday, October 13, 2008

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman


I recommend this book for: grade 7 and up

World War II is raging in Europe, but India is stifling under British rule. Teenage Vidya is a Brahmin girl with an exceptional, free-thinking father who treats the injuries of Indians hurt by British soldiers and promises his daughter the opportunity to go to college instead of being married off young. Vidya's joy is shortlived - her father suffers a terrible injury that affects his mind as well as his body, and the family must go to live with his father in his far more traditional home. There, the women live on the bottom floor and the men live upstairs, meeting only when the men come down for meals. Vidya and her mother are persecuted by the other women of the house, and they are forced to hear other family members refer to the good man they love as an idiot. Vidya seems destined for unhappiness in this stifling environment - until a refuge appears in the form of her grandfather's upstairs library, and that is not the only door to open to her . . .
This is a beautifully written story. There is enough context given to appreciate the story, even for those who don't know anything about India's culture or history. Vidya is a flawed and sympathetic heroine, and the relationship she forms with her grandfather especially touched me. This novel explores love, loyalty, freedom, and a rich period of history, and I loved every page.