Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Asha and the Spirit Bird

Bilan, Jasbinder. Asha and the Spirit Bird
June 2nd 2020 by Chicken House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Asha lives with her parents and younger siblings in rural India. They have a farm, and her mother does some sewing and other odd jobs, but times are tough. Her father has gone to live in the city and work in a factory to give the family more income, but they haven't heard from him in four months. Her mother has taken out a loan, and when she doesn't repay it, the loan shark comes to the home, threatening to repossess it if the loan is not repaid by Diwali, which is six weeks away. Asha feels hopeless, and plans, along with her good friend Jeevan, to travel to Zandapur to find her father. It's quite a trek across the Himalayas, especially since she wants to stop at a temple on her way, and Jeevan decides not to go, since he doesn't want his parents to worry. As Asha is traveling on his family's truck, however, he decides that he will stay with her and help her out. The two are not all that prepared, but do have a map and an address for Asha's father. Asha also believes that her grandmother's spirit is with her, in the form of a Lamagaia ( a type of vulture) who keeps appearing in times of need. The two manage to travel part of the way on a train, stowing away, but get thrown off and have to hike across the mountain. Asha's feet are bothering her, and Jeevan becomes very ill. Luckily, they meet a boy who takes them to his family to recuperate a bit. They make it to the temple, and even getting to the city isn't too bad, but once there, they get shanghaied into garbage picking, sold to the boss by a woman who offers them a ride and then drugs them. There isn't a lot of time before the loan must be repaid, so Asha manages to escape, bringing the other children along with her. Luckily, there is a man and his wife who run a shelter for homeless children, and they are a big help. Her father is located, but has been injured. Will the group be able to get back to the village in time to save the farm and prevent the family from going to England to like with an uncle?
Strengths:This reminded me a bit of Butterworth's Running on the Roof of the World, but without the yaks! What a fantastic twist on an outdoor action/adventure story-- traversing the Himalayas! There are a lot of details about Asha's life in her village that US readers will find fascinating, and the children's adventures in the big city reminded me a bit of Schroeder's Saraswati's Way. The fantasy element is there, but this is not a fantasy book; her grandmother's presence is more of a feeling than a reality, even though a tiger appears and saves the children, and Asha is sure it is her grandmother. Venkatraman's A Bridge Home has been hugely popular in my library, making this a book that has a built in audience in my library.
Weaknesses: I like the British cover better!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. I love reading stories from different places in the world.

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