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Books in Brief: The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman; Come Find Me by Megan Miranda; Brave Ballerina by Michelle Meadows

CHILDREN'S

The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman; Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 187 pages ($16.99) Ages 8 to 12.

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The author of acclaimed novel "A Time to Dance" brings a gritty realism to this  heartrending look at the plight of the homeless children of her native India in this fine novel inspired by true stories of India's homeless children.

Fleeing an alcoholic, violent father, 11-year-old Viji runs away from home with her developmentally disabled younger sister Ruku, only to discover that the mean streets of Chennai, India, are a very dangerous place for little girls.

They find shelter on an old bridge with two homeless boys, Muthi and Arul, who introduce them to the occupation of scavenging through stinking trash piles for recyclable treasures like bottles or pieces of metal. The four become a family, as they share their meager food supply, dote on a stray puppy they have adopted and scheme to find other ways to survive including foraging through trash bins at a wedding feast. Viji makes a windfall selling necklaces Ruku creates from beads given her by the kindly wife of a tea shop owner, but  the children find themselves in crisis after they are forced to flee the bridge and take refuge in a cemetery, where they are at the mercy of monsoon rains and mosquitoes.

Vankatraman offers gritty details of the acute physical discomfort of life on the streets, the festering trash heaps, the pangs of hunger, the bad water, the lack of shelter and a place to bathe. The ugly portraits of the nasty bus driver and the waste man who target the girls are counter-balanced by the kindly tea shop owner and by Celina Aunty who helps run a charity for homeless children which includes care of developmentally disabled children like Ruku. An afterword details the author's interest in these charity efforts. This is another fine novel depicting an 11-year-old overcoming adversity in the vein of Aisha Saeed's "Amal Unbound" and Veera Hiranandani's "The Night Diary," set during the partition of India.

YOUNG ADULT
Come Find Me by Megan Miranda; Crown, 336 pages ($18.99) Ages 14 and up.
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From Megan Miranda, author of gripping thriller "Fracture" and several other YA novels, comes another excellent page-turner of a novel, an enticing blend of thriller, supernatural/horror tale and romance.

After a bloody tragedy that turned her family home near a state park into a magnet for gawkers, 16-year-old Kennedy Jones is trying to continue her older brother's search of the cosmos when she discovers a strange radio frequency through his radio telescope. As she struggles to figure out what it means, she connects on a message board with 17-year-old Nolan Chandler, who lives in a neighboring county and has discovered a similar strange radio frequency while searching for clues to the disappearance of his older brother. Two years before, Liam Chandler, 17-year-old star athlete and student, vanished with the family dog during a picnic in that same state park, a tragedy that has left the Chandler parents obsessed with missing persons cases and convinced that Liam is still alive. Nolan is convinced, from the radio frequency detected in his brother's bedroom and from a dream about Liam, that Liam is trying to communicate something important to him.

Miranda deftly weaves her narrative, alternating perspectives between Kennedy and Nolan and delaying revealing critical details – including what Kennedy witnessed in her home that terrible night – for maximum effect. Both teens are grieving unimaginable losses; their determination to act in the face of that grief, to resist the pressure and unhelpful narratives of the adults around them, to find a way forward and some kind of resolution makes this an ultimately hopeful tale.

PICTURE BOOK

Brave Ballerina, The Story of Janet Collins by Michelle Meadows, illustrated by Ebony Glenn; Henry Holt ($17.99)

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In this lovely tribute, written as a poem, Michelle Meadows tells the fascinating true story of Janet Collins and the obstacles she overcame in the racially segregated dance world of the 1930s and 1940s until she was hired as the first black prima ballerina by the Metropolitan Opera House in 1951. (Collins was accepted into the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as a teenager but was rejected because she refused to paint her skin white for performances.) Glenn's illustrations capture the joy of the dance.  An author's note at the end adds more detail about Collins' life.

 

 

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