CW: past sexual assault, human trafficking, parental abandonment
This book was on my TBR for 2019 and now it’s also on my 20 books to read in 2020 list, so I knew I wanted to read it soon. After almost languishing on my couch for four days without reading anything, I finally decided to pick this up. And I don’t know if it was the right pick at the moment, I can’t deny that it was a very profound read.
The one thing I can tell you about the author’s writing is that it’s very engaging from the first page, with the right amount of pacing that makes you wanna breeze through it without taking any break – which is exactly what I ended up doing. The actual issues that are dealt within the book can be a bit tough to read, and the author never shies away from confronting us in a very straightforward way which can force us to think, but it still works well with her choice of using a dual POV as well as short chapters. The writing is very hard hitting and we feel deeply all the emotions that the characters are feeling, and I couldn’t have asked for anything less. The story takes place a bit in Boston and a lot of it in Kolkata, and I thought the author did a brilliant job bringing both the cities to life, and I almost felt transported there through her words. I also like the choices that the author made in the story – keeping things more realistic, not neatly tying up everything in a bow and leaving us with a sense that this is just the beginning, not the end.
There are so many important themes explored in the story but the author never lets them overwhelm the readers. Human trafficking is the major underlying theme here but the author doesn’t focus on why it happens, but more on what can be done to help the survivors, the kind of support and resources they need and how difficult it maybe to help them thrive in the outside world. Religion and church is also a major foundation of this book, with service and volunteering forming the major way through which our characters find their way forward and purpose in life. The aftermath of sexual assault and the grief of abandonment/ the uncertainty of being an adopted child also are other major issues that the characters face and I thought the author handled them with a lot of thought and sensitivity.
Kat is a fierce, confident, ambitious and determined high school girl who’s life in thrown into disarray when she is assaulted. As a jiu-jitsu belt holder, she manages to defend herself but it still leaves a mark and it was tough watching her deal with panic attacks, nightmares and just complete discomfort about being in the space with a group of men. But through meeting an old grandmotherly teacher, a new group of church friends and working with the trafficking survivors, she learns that there are more ways of being empowered than just self defense, and she also understands the different ways in which she can help those in need.
Robin/Ravi has grown up with privilege in a wealthy family but being a brown adopted child of two white parents has always left him feeling conflicted, and he has never had the opportunity to explore or identify his feelings about this. But when he gets an opportunity to go to Kolkata, he finally decides to look for his birth mother. He has lots of hopes and dreams about his reunion and going to back to India really brings out a lot of feelings in him – unimaginable grief and anger and a deep desire to help the survivors; he also finds himself becoming more confident, assertive, finally trying to love himself and also accept the love that he has received from his parents without feeling guilty.
There are also some wonderful side characters we meet like the church group who are exactly the kind of supportive friends both Kat and Ravi need, Grandma Vee who makes such a positive impact on Kat letting go of her anger and helplessness, Ravi’s parents who are so compassionate and loving, Banto who is the most adorable friend they make in India and the amazing group of people working for the emancipation of trafficked children and the brave group of survivors. Every relationship written in this story is very meaningful, with each person helping the other grow in some way or the other and I just loved reading about all of them.
To conclude, the issues that this book talks about maybe tough but it is a beautifully written and emotionally engaging book. It has a great ensemble of characters who are all faithful and compassionate and just want to do good. If you like reading about complicated youngsters and books that fall between contemporary and literary fiction, you should totally check this out. As religion plays a very important part in this story, the writing did feel didactic at times but never overly preachy and it didn’t affect my reading experience much. I really loved being with these characters and I can’t wait to read the author’s next works.