In Chandigarh, a town in northern India, is Nek Chand’s Rock Garden, a magnificent, 40-acre garden of some 5,000 sculptures made from recycled ceramics, industrial waste, and discarded household scrap—and the real-life inspiration for this historical novel.
Bradbury (A Moment Comes, 2013, etc.), who worked as a teacher in Chandigarh, offers a thoughtful novel based on this story, featuring 12-year-old dark-haired (and presumed dark-skinned) protagonist Ram. A shrewd orphan street kid, Ram accidently discovers Nek Chand’s secret, built over years on unused government land, and is delighted to help him make those beautiful figurines. When the situation turns desperate and the garden is threatened, Ram shows them to his friend Daya and her father, Mr. Singh, an art-loving urban planner who helps save this incredible folk art from being demolished. Intertwined with Ram’s story, and printed on pages with a patterned background, is an incomplete version of the Ramayana, the mythological legend of Rama, Sita, and the 10-headed demon Ravana, as it parallels Ram’s life. Some details do not conform to the norms of traditional Indian society. Why does Mr. Singh allow his daughter to roam the streets with homeless urchin Ram? Why doesn’t Ram address Mr. Singh and Nek Chand with proper respect, as Singhji and Nekji? Apart from this, Bradbury immerses readers in Ram’s world, authentically describing the sights, smells, and sounds of Chandigarh’s streets and the daily lives of its inhabitants. Readers will wish for visuals to complement Bradbury’s descriptions of Chand’s creations; she does provide further information on both it and the Ramayana in an author’s note.
A compassionate story of homelessness and friendship, recycled art and community. (glossary) (Historical fiction. 9-13)