Guest post by Padma Venkatraman
BOYS WITHOUT NAMES
By Kashmira Sheth
My copy of BOYS WITHOUT NAMES by Kashmira Sheth carried a quote from Jacqueline Woodson that said it was one of the best books she “read this year.” I read this book in February, but I’m sure, although I will read other excellent books this year, it will remain one of the best I’ve read this year, too.
BOYS WITHOUT NAMES deals with the terrible injustice of child labor in a manner accessible to a middle grade audience. Gopal, an eleven year old living in an Indian village, is forced to flee to the city of Mumbai along with his family when his father is threatened by a cruel and unscrupulous money-lender. On their way to the city, his father goes missing. Gopal and his mother and siblings reach his uncle’s home and are welcomed. But safety comes with squalor in the city slum where they now live.
Determined not to burden his kind and generous uncle, who is himself poor, Gopal takes up a stranger’s offer of a “job” only to discover too late that he has been sold into slavery. He is forced to work in a sweat shop, along with five other boys. The owner forbids the boys from befriending one another and pits them against one another. He does not even let them share their names with each other.
Sheth doesn’t avoid showing brutality. In one horrific scene, the sweatshop owner beats the boys. However, she deals with violence in a manner that is both honest and appropriate for her young audience.
Gopal’s memories of his family’s love and warmth comfort him and he finds the strength not only to hold on to his sense of self-worth, but also to break through to the other boys, by sharing stories at night. As the boys begin to bond, their situation gets more desperate.
Finally, Gopal decides to risk all in a bid for freedom and the story attains its exciting climax. Through the power of her storytelling, Sheth is sure to inspire her audience to think deeply, act courageously, and reach out to help others just as her protagonist, Gopal, does, when the story reaches its touching conclusion.