The Bridge Home


"Please understand, Viji.  I promised to be a good matter what.  I can't leave."

Amma doesn't have a choice.  Viji does and Appa is never going to hurt her little sister, Rukku, again.

Last night Appa came home drunk again and he hit Amma.  He hit Amma so hard he broke her arm.  Now he's back after a day away and he's brought gifts for his wife and his two daughters.  This is how it always goes.  But this time he kicked out at Viji's little sister, Rukku.

Viji knows Amma will never leave. Viji knows that Appa won't stop hurting them and the hurting will only get worse.  So, when morning comes, Viji wakes Rukku and with a few things gathered hastily, they walk to the bus stop and board the bus to the city and a life without Appa and Amma.  Viji and Rukku together forever.

The two girls find themselves in Chennai, India, where thousands of homeless children make a life for themselves on the streets.  It's a gritty, dangerous life with no guarantees, no protections and often, no food.

This is a story of grit.  This is a story of a sister who has to choose between bad and worse.  Viji has the courage to get her sister away from the brutality and her determination carries her through the rotting, stinking mountains of garbage, where they attempt to make a living.  This is survival at the most basic level.

There's a stirring of the Box Car Children here with the girls and some new found friends scavenging for food and plastic to build their small worlds.  But the desperation and the danger rise well beyond that story of homeless children.

This story is important for our children to read and understand.  Some people live with a caste system that labels and limits them.  Some people live in countries where millions of children live on the streets subject to predators and disease.

Can you imagine having to make the decision of whether to stay or go?  Can you imagine holding the life of your sister in your young hands?

Viji and Rukku will stay with you for a long, long time.

208 pages           978-1-5247-3811-2            Ages 10 and up

Keywords:  homelessness, economic insecurity, economic diversity, diversity, diverse books, empathy, sisters, survival, child abuse, domestic violence, kindness, working together, India, death, disease, family, multicultural, religion

Recommended by:  Barb Langridge,


“I can open your eyes

Take you wonder by wonder

Over sideways and under

A magic carpet ride”

-- Tim Rice & Alan Menken, “A Whole New World” (1992)

“I found a relatively rubble-free patch of ground and spread out our sheet. Not that it made the ground any softer.

‘Amma,’ you said, and looked all around us, as though our mother might pop out of the river and fly up through a hole in the bridge. ‘Amma?’

I put my arms around you, but you kept crying her name.

Kutti snuggled up to you, and you clutched one of his paws. He didn’t seem to mind.

Hugging him close, like you used to hug your doll, you finally lay down on our sheet. ‘Story?’

Maybe hearing the familiar words would help take your mind off Amma. And my mind off the bumpy ground.

Not wanting the boys to overhear, I lowered my voice to a whisper. ‘Once upon a time, two sisters ruled a magical land.’

‘Viji and Rukku,’ you put in.

‘Yes. Us. We used to be princesses, the two of us. We slept on soft pink pillows in a beautiful palace. Every morning we’d wake to the sound of birds singing and the sight of peacocks dancing. White lotuses shone bright as stars in the lake at the center of our green garden. From this lake, a silver stream slipped out beyond our palace gates into the rest of our kingdom.

No one in our kingdom was ever thirsty, because everyone could drink from that sparkling stream. And no one in our kingdom was cruel. Grown-ups never fought, and every child had all the dolls and toys they ever wanted.’”

That books take young readers to new worlds is a generations-old librarian pitch. But the degree to which I found myself immersed in the perilous and oft-whimsical world of the four young characters in THE BRIDGE HOME has me recalling how well-written books do, indeed, transport us. And transform us.

Pre-teen sisters Viji and Rukku endure a drunken, abusive father until the point when he first breaks their mother’s arm and then beats them. Before dawn, Viji packs up what little they have and coaxes the intellectually-disabled Rukku to quietly leave with her. They ride a bus to the city and become runaways on the streets of India. Fortunately, they meet Arul and Muthu, two runaway boys living on an abandoned bridge. Along with Kutti, a stray dog that Rukku adopts, the four children become like family.

They eke out a living as ragpickers. They live in makeshift shelters, first on the bridge and, later, in an unkempt graveyard. They evade adult predators. Rakku’s talent for beading necklaces and the goodwill of a few adults help them to survive. Barely. Until, finally, the elements, the filth, the mosquitoes, and the untreated water combine to create a life-and-death crisis.

I’ve never been to India. But now, thanks to Padma Venkatraman, I’ve walked its streets, stopped at a tea shop, endured the rains, and trod through mountains of malodorous trash.

THE BRIDGE HOME is one of the truly notable children’s books of 2019.

208 pages           978-1-5247-3811-2            Ages 10 and up

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California  USA

See more of Richie's Picks

If you liked this book you might also enjoy: Saraswati's Way by Monika Schroeder; Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan


"Readers will be captivated by this beautifully written novel about young people who must use their instincts and grit to survive. Padma shares with us an unflinching peek into the reality millions of homeless children live every day but also infuses her story with hope and bravery that will inspire readers and stay with them long after turning the final page."--Aisha Saeed, author of the New York Times Bestselling Amal Unbound

Four determined homeless children make a life for themselves in Padma Venkatraman's stirring middle-grade debut.

Life is harsh in Chennai's teeming streets, so when runaway sisters Viji and Rukku arrive, their prospects look grim. Very quickly, eleven-year-old Viji discovers how vulnerable they are in this uncaring, dangerous world. Fortunately, the girls find shelter--and friendship--on an abandoned bridge. With two homeless boys, Muthi and Arul, the group forms a family of sorts. And while making a living scavenging the city's trash heaps is the pits, the kids find plenty to laugh about and take pride in too. After all, they are now the bosses of themselves and no longer dependent on untrustworthy adults. But when illness strikes, Viji must decide whether to risk seeking help from strangers or to keep holding on to their fragile, hard-fought freedom.--from the publisher

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