Thursday, June 26, 2014

Reader's Diary #1139- Deborah Ellis: No Ordinary Day

Deborah Ellis's Breadwinner trilogy has been on my tbr list for quite a while and yet I wasn't familiar with any of her work outside of that. Thankfully, however, I've discovered No Ordinary Day and now that I've read it, the Breadwinner trilogy will definitely be bumped further up the pile.

No Ordinary Day tells of 9 year old Valli, a girl from Jharia, a coal town in northern India. Her existence is rough, especially by middle class Canadian standards. She works (as a coal picker), lives in a one-room shack with her supposed extended family (including an alcoholic, abusive uncle), and then things become even worse. Before long Valli is homeless on the streets of Kolkata and, unbeknownst to her, has contracted leprosy.

I couldn't help but compare this one to Beth Goobie's Jason's Why, which I read a couple years back and which was also told in a 9-year old's first perspective. Whereas I felt that one was too didactic, No Ordinary Day feels much less so, despite being a book clearly full of lessons and subject matter ripe for an upper-elementary school classroom. Valli is a fully developed character, and I found myself enjoying her first, pitying her second. She still manages to find rare moments of childish pleasure. Her mistrust of others is purely a result of her developed sense of survival and she still tries to help out others whenever she can. It's only when she throws out a passing comment about not feeling anything in her feet, which she sees as advantage, that I felt less like listening and more like cringing. (It'd also be a good lesson in situational irony.)

But, despite the heavy themes, there's also hope that I think will take the bleak edge off for younger readers. And besides, if Valli teaches us anything it's that kids are resilient and it's okay to get help.

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