My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Initial reaction: Very unexpected surprise. I didn’t expect to enjoy this novel as much as I did, particularly with it being a random read that I picked up from my local library. I thought the environment and details with respect to India were a nice touch, and I really liked following Akash’s journey and the various characters he comes across. Ultimately this is a story of a boy who wants nothing more than to learn and get a good education, but he weathers some tough spells in the process.
Dude, you guys do not know how much I enjoyed this book. And probably for very simple reasons that others may not share, but I’m not even sorry. I think it was refreshing to read about an intelligent, fortuitous protagonist that has a worthy goal he seeks out, but has to weather some difficult circumstances in order to reach that goal. Akash comes from a poor family and is actually a very smart boy who works well with the numbers in his head (naturally, he loves math). Unfortunately, with respect to the circumstances that his family lives in and a sudden tragedy that throws his world out of balance, Akash questions whether he must live the life he’s fated to live or work against the elements to try to reach the goal he ultimately wants in his life.
His journey takes him from home in the villages to being sent away to do backbreaking labor to pay off a debt, to escaping into the larger cityscapes of India and meeting a bunch of colorful characters along the way – both friend and foe alike. I have to say that the attention to place details as well as the customs and language of India drawn in this novel (including the glossary in the back) are excellent, even particularly for its respective length, audience (middle grade) and genre. I flew through this book and found the narrative flow nice. I didn’t want to put it down and only did when I had to. I do wish that I’d had more time to get to know the characters and had a deeper immersion with some of the other details of the work (the math tricks and the way Akash walked through them with the other characters were cool), but I honestly can’t complain that much. I really enjoyed it and I think people who like quick reads featuring a likable protagonist and an interesting attention to detail with respect to place will find something to take from in this novel. I will also say that I appreciate the author’s end notes on the realities that Indian children like Akash face each day, and I was able to take away quite a bit from that.
Overall score: 4/5