Thursday, February 25, 2021

Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame

Kelkar, Supriya. Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame
February 24th 2021 by Tu Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Meera isn't thrilled to be turning 13, because it means that she will finally have to move to her husband Krishna's house. They were married when quite young, and she hasn't really ever met him, but she realizes that this is just how life is arranged in 1857 India. She would rather stay home with her own mother,  but her family believes in traditional values. When Krishna dies suddenly, her father is determined that she should join him on his funeral pyre and immolate herself in the ritual of sati, in order to preserve her family's honor, even though the British have outlawed this practice. When a chance presents itself, she runs away from home, and ends up surviving with the help of Bhavani, who is trying to find her older sister, who is serving as an ayah (child care provider) for a British family. When Meera and Bhavani are caught in a British ammunition storage area, Captain Keene punishes them by putting them to work in his household. This isn't ideal, but it soon appears that Bhavani is working with resisters to the British who are trying to find information to sabotage British interests, and working in the household, Bhavani is able to sneak looks at papers on the Captain's desk. While the situation is not ideal for Meera, it is providing her with a place to live and work to do, and she is saving up money to try to go far from her town so that she will be safe from Krishna's family. She has an uneasy understanding with the Memsahib, so has lost her own daughter and is usually nice to Meera, but also harbors the racial prejudice the British felt towards Indians at the time. As the situation with the British becomes more intense, and Bhavani becomes more involved, will Meera be willing to give up her life of subsistence to try to make things better for the Indian people?
Strengths: This is a great book to use to replace Whelan's Homeless Bird (2000), if that's something that you are currently using in the classroom. While I always liked that title, it has made me increasingly uncomfortable as we get more and more #ownvoices stories. The details about every day life, and about the sociopolitical situation in India at this point in history are well presented, and offset by a really page-turning story about a young girl trying to save her own life. I'm a big fan of interesting bits of history I don't know anything about, and the Sepoy Mutiny is something I had never encountered, and I learned a lot while rooting for Meera's future. 
Weaknesses: This author's Ahimsa has circulated better than I had anticipated, but historical fiction set in the 1800s can be hard to convince my students to read. 
What I really think: I very much enjoy Kelkar's work, and her American as Paneer Pie (2020) has been popular with my students. I will buy this title, but it may take some handselling. I hope that Kelkar alternates between historical fiction and modern stories with cultural connections; she is equally brilliant at writing both.
Ms. Yingling

1 comment:

  1. Oh, wow, serious flashbacks to The Far Pavilions, a book I adored as a teenager. Would be wonderful to read an OwnVoices take on that time period.