Noor has called a brothel home all her life.
The sex workers are her family, and as a devadasi, she is destined to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Her only respite is school. There, she excels in her studies and blossoms among her classmates. But it is a new friend—a foreigner—who helps her escape her old life forever. Laidlaw brings Kamathipura, a poor neighborhood in Mumbai, to life with her detailed prose. The author handles the delicate subject matter with care, balancing the desperate living conditions with glimpses of Noor’s joys and aspirations. Grace, a white expat student at an elite private school, struggles with the departure of her university-age brother and best friend. She meets Noor during her school-mandated community service, which brings their storylines together. The inclusion of Grace as a second narrator is distracting since the focus of the book is wholly on Noor’s journey. Grace’s ordeal is compelling in its own right and would have been better served in a separate book; instead it is subsumed under the wider arc of Noor’s trials and seems trivial by contrast. The alternating points of view force readers to compare the two girls, making it easy to reduce Noor to her poverty and Grace to her privilege.
Full of complicated characters from across Mumbai’s social classes, the novel challenges readers' expectations. (author’s note) (Fiction. 14-18)