A Tibetan girl and her friend find themselves on a quest through the Himalayas.
Twelve-year-old narrator Tashi’s small Tibetan village is suffering under the heel of the Chinese military. After one of the villagers publicly sets himself on fire to protest the harshness of the occupation (a graphic event that continues to haunt Tash through the book and might well haunt readers), soldiers come to arrest Tash’s parents as suspected dissidents. Tash and her best friend, Samdup, barely escape, taking with them the illegal resistance leaflets and a coded letter her journalist dad gives her. With their two borrowed yaks, the two children are determined to make the long, dangerous trek through the Himalayas into India to seek help from the Dalai Lama, who is living there in exile. Short chapters and simple sentence structure keep the pages turning. The tale diligently provides details of Tibetan daily life, customs, and culture, and it appropriately raises questions about freedom, occupation, and exile. However, sometimes the characters’ voices sound very Western, and readers familiar with the culture may wonder at the yaks’ Western names, the characters’ nicknames, and their use of Western rather than Tibetan address for their parents. Plot-driven conveniences and a tidy ending further undercut the story’s realism. A brief bulleted list of facts concludes the story, but there is no map—an absence readers may feel.
This story of friendship, courage, and survival is an imperfect peek into the Tibetan culture and way of life. (Adventure. 10-14)