Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Tween Tuesday Book Review: Small Acts of Amazing Courage, by Gloria Whelan (Paula Wiseman Book, 2011)
In her newest novel, National Book Award winner Gloria Whelan returns to India, also the setting for her award-winning novel, Homeless Bird. She tells the story of kind-hearted but independent-minded Rosalind, an English girl living in 1919 colonial India.
She is constantly doing things not fit for a proper young English girl. For example, she finds the club, populated with proper young girls her age, boring, and prefers going to the colorful local bazaar and spending time with Isha, her Indian friend.
Her father returns from military service in the war horrified to discover that Rosalind is picking up a Hindi accent from spending too much time with servants and not enough time at the club. But when Rosalind takes an interest in Gandhi and his attempt to free India from British rule, and gets involved with rescuing an orphan Indian baby, her father insists that she be sent to her maiden aunts in England, far from trouble.
Aunt Ethyl and Aunt Louise, Rosalind's mother tells her, are "like chalk and cheese," Ethyl "stiff-necked" and cold and Louise and the other warm but frightened to death of her older sister. England seems a cold, foreign land to the unhappy Rosalind until she meets up with the handsome Lieutenant Max Nelson, a friend from India. Rosalind will soon shake up their household in unexpected ways, and the surprising ending leaves room for a possible sequel.
This story is told in the first person by Rosalind, who is a likable and sympathetic protagonist. I found this to be an enjoyable coming-of-age story with a colorful setting, suitable for tween or even teen readers. There's a smidgen of potential romance developing between Rosalind and the dapper and progressive Max. I was disappointed with the characters of the two maiden aunts, who with their opposite personalities I found to be lacking in the depth seen in Rosalind and some of the other characters.
An author's note provides some background on the situation in India in 1919, particularly on Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. Whelan writes that she was inspired to write this novel by her own experience participating in the U.S. civil rights movement, which was heavily influenced by Gandhi's ideas, as well as by a book, Children of the Raj, which tells the story of the children of British civil servants stationed in Indian. The book also includes a glossary of Indian expressions used throughout the text.
Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher.