Maya shut the journal as a thought struck her: I’m part Indian, but before August 14, 1947, everyone was Indian.
—Ticket to India, N.H. Senzai
Twelve-year-old Maya Quddusiyyah Agha is visiting Karachi, Pakistan, for the 10th time—she’s done the California–Pakistan trip almost once every year since she was born—but this time, she’s not there for the usual happy family reunion. This time, she and her family are there because Nanabba, her maternal grandfather, has died.
Shortly after their arrival, Maya and her older sister Zara learn that their grandmother was actually born in India, and that she hasn’t been back since the Great Partition. For decades, she has wanted to visit her childhood home in Aminpur—to see it again, but also to retrieve some items buried in her old backyard, including a family ring she wants to bury with her husband. She attempts to sneak off to complete her quest on her own, but Maya and Zara catch her in the act…and convince her to bring them along.
Ticket to India has some bright spots: Senzai’s descriptions of places and things are excellent, in that it’s easy to see what Maya sees, hear the clatter of the train, smell the food in front of her, so much so that readers may well be inspired to look more closely at their own surroundings:
Squinting past the peeling paint, cracked wooden lattices, and broken balustrades, Maya tried to imagine what it must have looked like once. Her eyes widened as she caught hints of beauty: in the curve of wrought-iron balconies, intricately carved columns, and ornate cornices. She realized that this area must once have been quite posh—filled with ornamented palaces, elegant mosques, coffeehouses, and gardens. But now it had been swallowed up and run down.
They may also be inspired to consider the history of familiar places, though that is where the book’s major weakness comes into play: it’s intensely didactic. The information itself is so, so interesting—I ended up down an Internet rabbit hole after Maya encountered the Gulabi Gang—but more often than not, it is conveyed via lengthy, unrealistic, infodumpy monologues. While the storyline serves to highlight poverty and sanitation and the plight of orphans and the rich/poor divide, that same didacticism seriously minimizes any real possibility of emotional engagement.
Nutshell: Way more entertaining than a textbook, but it’s not going to fool many readers into Learning By Accident.
Another book that deals with the Great Partition:
A Beautiful Lie, by Irfan Master
This book is geared more YA than MG, and it’s a historical rather than a contemporary—it takes place in 1947 India—about thirteen-year-old Bilal, who decides to convince his dying father that the Partition isn’t happening, that India will remain whole. Others in their circle get involved—some approve while some, including Bilal’s older brother, don’t—and while Kirkus gave it a mixed review, it sounds like the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.