When eleven-year-old Viji runs away from home with her twelve-year-old sister, Rukku, she hopes to find a better life in the city, and maybe even the chance to someday fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher. But the city is nothing like she expected, filled with a flood of noise and trash and movement--and very few opportunities for two inexperienced girls who are suddenly on their own. And she has to be careful to keep Rukku away from anyone who might try to put her in a "mental institution," a possibility which she has always feared. The reality of surviving on the streets seems grim, to say the least.
But then the sisters meet Arul and Muthi, two boys who are also homeless, and are introduced to a new world--one of struggling to find food, and gathering trash to sell from Himalayas of garbage, yes, but also of sleeping on an old bridge above a glittering river at night, not being ordered around by anyone, and forming a bond which quickly becomes unbreakable. With every day she lives on the streets, Viji feels her dreams of being a teacher, and of ever finding a better life, drifting farther and farther from reach. But with Rukku, Arul, and Muthi by her side, life's obstacles seem more like adventures than problems, and she and Rukku are the happiest they've ever been--until everything they've worked so hard to build begins to come apart.
The Bridge Home is rich with compassion, hope, and humanity. The irresistible characters aren't deeply complex, yet are filled with life and energy and motion; Viji is strong, determined, and fiercely loyal, and Rukku is incredibly lovable, kind, and far more talented than most people bother to find out. I was struck by how despite frequently facing dire circumstances, the protagonists still manage to have fun and be silly, ordinary kids. Their moments of triumph and true happiness make their heartbreaking ones even more wrenching (I cried quite a bit!), and the story gives a glimpse into the lives of millions of children whose stories aren't often told. In the author's note, Venkatraman notes that The Bridge Home is based on real stories she gathered from a variety of interviews and conversations, which I wasn't surprised to learn, given how deftly she brings the story to life. A piercing, beautiful story of survival, loss, friendship and sisterhood, I would highly recommend The Bridge Home to readers ages ten and up.