Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boys Without Names, by Kashmira Sheth

Title:  Boys Without Names
Author:  Kashmira Sheth
Publisher:  Balzer & Bray
Year:  2010
Pages:  320
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Themes:  Social Justice, Child Labor
Age Range:  5th-8th Grade

Summary:  (from Goodreads)
For eleven-year-old Gopal and his family, life in their rural Indian village is over: We stay, we starve, his baba has warned. So they must flee to the big city of Mumbai in hopes of finding work and a brighter future. Gopal is eager to help support his struggling family until school starts, so when a stranger approaches him with the promise of a factory job, he jumps at the offer. 
But Gopal has been deceived. There is no factory but, instead, a small, stuffy sweatshop, where he and five other boys are forced to make beaded frames for no money and little food. The boys are forbidden to talk or even to call one another by their real names. In this atmosphere of distrust and isolation, locked in a rundown building in an unknown part of the city, Gopal despairs of ever seeing his family again.
Then, late one night when Gopal decides to share kahanis, or stories, he realizes that storytelling might be the boys' key to holding on to their sense of self and their hope for any kind of future. If he can make them feel more like brothers than enemies, their lives will be more bearable in the shop—and they might even find a way to escape.

The first book I read by Kashmira Sheth was called Keeping Corner, and told the story of a 10 year widow in early 20th century India, forced to live a life of mourning because her betrothed had been killed before she was old enough to marry him.  I was impressed with both her ability to create such authentic feeling characters, and with the depth of her understanding of the social and cultural factors that were in play, both within the girl's small Brahman community and in the larger historical context.

In Boys Without Names Sheth once again writes a story full of believable characters, characters who change and grow in unexpected ways throughout the course of the story.  As Gopal and his family left their village and traveled to the city, I knew that they would be out of their depth.  It was a little bit like watching a disaster happen in slow motion, at least as an older reader.  I know enough about the region to know that children are often victimized in this way, either because their parents are naive to the promises made by "recruiters", or because poverty forces people to make desperate decisions.  Younger readers may not have the background knowledge to connect the dots while they are reading, but I think that they will be able to identify with Gopal and his friends.  Because I think that there will have to be some robust discussion for students to understand the context for the story, I think this book is best used in a guided reading setting.

Teacher Resources:
Junior Library Guild Reading Guide
Harper Collins Discussion Guide

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