Synopsis From Dust Cover:
There's not much that upsets young Valli. Even though her days are spent picking coal and fighting with her cousins, life in the coal town of Jharia, India, is the only life she knows. The only sight that fills her with terror are the monsters who live on the other side of the train tracks -- the lepers. Valli and the other children throw stones at them. No matter how hard her life is, she tells herself, at least she will never be one of them. Then she discovers that she is not living with family after all, that her "aunt" was a stranger who was paid money to take Valli off her own family's hands. She decides to leave Jharia . . . and so begins a series of adventures that takes her to Kolkata, the city of the gods. It's not so bad. Valli finds that she really doesn't need much to live. She can "borrow" the things she needs and then pass them on to people who need them more than she does. It helps that though her bare feet become raw wounds as she makes her way around the city, she somehow feels no pain. But when she happens to meet a doctor on the ghats by the river, Valli learns that she has leprosy. Despite being given a chance to receive medical care, she cannot bear the thought that she is one of those monsters she has always feared, and she flees, to an uncertain life on the street.
Alrighty, so this was one of those books that you read and you don't want it to end. I find that all of Deborah Ellis' books are like that. This one made a really serious issue seem not nearly as bad as we think it is.
I always thought that leprosy was actually contagious through being near someone who had it. I was proved wrong. Leprosy is actually just in a smaller percent of the population, and is curable if you get the medication in time.
I believe that Valli had the same ideas as I did about leprosy. After all, when she got near to the "monsters" on the other side of the railroad tracks in the beginning of the book, she was horribly frightened that she would turn out like them. Ironically, she kind of did. But not because she came close to them on the other side of the tracks.
This was certainly a book that got you thinking, and as I had said before, it got you thinking about serious issues. This book really made me want to know more about leprosy, and being the kind of person I am, I investigated. :D
Some facts from The Leprosy Mission Canada
There are even more facts about leprosy on their website. This is really an awful disease, and not something that anyone, not just children should have to endure.
Deborah Ellis did a really amazing job with this book. I said it before that she is really good at taking difficult topics and making them easier to swallow, but she did an exceptional job this time. She shows the fear Valli had of the monsters, and the life that she had on the streets in a way that wouldn't scare younger children. Also, even while we read about Valli living on the streets, Deborah Ellis still manages to add in a little lesson about giving to those less fortunate than you.
This was a really well written book, and I have a feeling that more of Deborah Ellis' books are going to find their way into my hands. (Books have a funny way of doing that...)