Homeless orphan Valli is always friendly, if amoral.
When Valli can, she sneaks glimpses at Bollywood dances, learns a little reading or throws rocks at the monsters—people without faces or fingers—who live on the other side of the tracks. Most of the time, however, she picks up coal. Sick of beatings, hunger and coal, Valli hides on a passing truck, fleeing her life of poverty for a life of… well, more poverty, but also more excitement. On the Kolkata streets she lives day-to-day. Constantly starving, she contentedly begs and steals; when she has something she doesn't need (a bit of extra soap, a blanket), she passes it on to somebody else. When Valli tries her luck begging from kind Dr. Indra, she learns she has leprosy, just like the faceless monsters back home. It takes some time, but Valli learns to accept help from the women who offer it to her: Dr. Indra, who works at the leprosy hospital; Neeta, a sales manager with leprosy who teaches Valli how to make pie charts; Laxmi, a teenager who's been burned. An emphasis on Christmas falls discordant, but Valli’s journey from stubborn solitude to member of a community is richly fulfilling.
A true-to-life portrait of a young girl’s cheerful selfishness in this surprisingly optimistic novel of unrelenting poverty. (Fiction. 9-11)