Happy long weekend, guys!
I'm reviewing Ticket to India this week, a tale about two sisters who go on an epic mission to help fulfil their grandmother's wish.
It's both a great look into modern Pakistan and India, while also providing much-needed insight about the historical realities of Partition.
MMGM is a feature hosted by (fabulous) author Shannon Messenger on her blog every week!
Hardcover, 288 pages
Expected publication: November 17th 2015 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
Format read: ARC via publisher
One-part travel tale and one-part historical reflection, Ticket to India is a fantastic new find for anyone looking to incorporate diverse books into their reading.
A map, two train tickets, and a mission. These are things twelve-year-old Maya and her big sister Zara have when they set off on their own from Delhi to their grandmother’s childhood home of Aminpur, a small town in Northern India. Their goal is to find a chest of family treasures that their grandmother’s family left behind when they fled from India to Pakistan during the Great Partition. But soon the sisters become separated, and Maya is alone. Determined to find her grandmother’s lost chest, she continues her trip, on the way enlisting help from an orphan by named Jai.
Maya’s grand adventure through India is as thrilling as it is warm: a journey through her family’s history becomes a real coming-of-age quest.
The answer? Fantastically. Senzai, who previously gained recognition for Shooting Kabul and Saving Kabul Corner, introduce us to Maya, who is returning to Pakistan to fulfill a sad family duty - burying her beloved grandfather.
However, she quickly learns that her grandmother or Naniamma has something she needs to do before the funeral can take place. Her family left behind a box of treasures as they were fleeing India during Partition, and Naniamma believes that her husband can't be laid to rest, without something in the box. It's now up to Maya, her sister and their grandmother to bring the box home...
What makes Ticket to India so compelling to read - even for an older reader like myself - is that it's both a quest story and a historical tale, woven into one. Senzai does a great job setting up an initial and clear objective for Maya and her sister: retrieving their Naniamma's heirloom box. Their various attempts to get to the box in India are not only exciting, but also show how resourceful two young people can be when faced with challenging situations.
Even when things keep going wrong for Maya and Zara, the two sisters are able to think quickly on their feet while dually appreciating the opportunities that they're being given. Unlike a stereotypical teens who would likely balk about being abroad and traveling into unknown situations, Senzai's careful to show how the two sisters can still take a moment to appreciate India's greatest landmarks, even as they travel. There's an innate (and much appreciated!) eagerness by Maya to learn, and it's clearly reflected in the diary passages that Senzai uses to frame her experiences.
Outside of Maya and Zara's quest, Senzai also uses their trip to share a period in history that may not be as familiar to western youth. She's candid about the genuine horrors that came with Partition, and Naniamma's background is both painful and heartbreaking. But Senzai also gently reminds readers that both countries have evolved and matured throughout the decades, and thoughtfully points out both a shared history, and a growing willingness by both sides to contemplate thinking differently in the future.
(As someone who shares roots in both China and Taiwan, I definitely felt the universality of Senzai's writing, as Maya notes many of those shared foundations between India and Pakistan, as those were thoughts I've had myself about China and Taiwan - including a similar conversation with a taxi driver through the streets of Beijing.)
While Maya's quest borders into high drama at times, Senzai's writing doesn't suffer as a result. Instead, we're made to feel acutely just some of the lengths that people will go to for survival, as a result of circumstances beyond their control. It's a subtle throwback to lengths that many likely went to after Partition occurred, and does challenge readers to question just what an individual is capable of doing.
Bottom line: Ticket to India is a clear example of why diverse books are needed in the hands of readers. This is a book that not only captures the imagination, but also helps readers to better understand a turbulent point in history, that will likely hit home closer than they might think.
Of special note: Senzai doesn't hesitate to depict some of the harsher realities of life in modern India, including the abduction of children to be used in street gangs. While it's definitely tough reading about how these young children are treated by these gangs, it also provides ample opportunity to discuss just why these gangs have formed, and the various ways that organizations and individuals are proactively trying to help them.
About the author:
N.H. Senzai is the author of Shooting Kabul, which was critically acclaimed and on numerous award lists. Publishers Weekly called it “hard hitting, emotionally wrenching.” Her second book, Saving Kabul Corner, was nominated for an Edgar Award. Ms. Senzai lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family. Visit her online at NHSenzai.com.