5th Grade and Up
Kabir has been in jail since the day he was born because his mom is serving time for a crime she didn’t commit. He’s never met his dad, so the only family he’s got are their cellmates. The only place he feels the slightest bit free is in the classroom, where his kind teacher regales him with stories of the wonders of the outside world. Then one day, a new warden arrives and announces Kabir is too old to stay. He gets handed over to a long-lost uncle who, unfortunately, turns out to be a fraud and intends to sell Kabir. So Kabir does the only thing he can – run away as fast as his legs will take him. How does a boy with nowhere to go and no connections make his way? Fortunately, he befriends Rani, another street kid, and she takes him under her wing. But plotting their next move is hard – and fraught with danger – in a world that cares little for homeless, low caste children. This is not the world Kabir dreamed of – but he’s discovered he’s not the type to give up. Kabir is ready to show the world that he – and his mother – deserve a place in it.
I was happily surprised by how much I enjoyed this story. Based on the many serious subject matters (such as incarceration, poverty, water shortages, low caste and high caste, Muslim-Hindu relations, etc.), I expected it to be horribly depressing. But it turned out to be a pretty great story about a nine-year-old boy who never lost hope.
In 2016, I reviewed another book about a boy born and raised in jail, titled ‘All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook’ by Leslie Connor. Both boys’ prison upbringings are very different. Perry lives in the United States, his prison is co-ed, and he can leave the building to go to school. Kabir lives in India, his prison is only for females, and he is locked up 24/7.
I really like Rani. She’s like a cool Roma street-smart version of Aladdin. Someone even called her ‘riffraff.’
I learned from the Author’s Note that this novel was inspired by a BBC news report about a boy who was born in jail and fought to free his mother. Sadly, such injustice is still happening to this day.
I recommend listening to the audiobook because it’s read with an Indian accent, and you can hear how everything is pronounced. The only problem was that my inner dialogue had an Indian accent after a while.
Overall, it was nice to read a story about life in India that promotes empathy and kindness and didn’t completely depress me.