Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman is the story of fifteen-year-old Vidya. She lives with her father, mother, and brother in Bombay, India. The year is 1941. Gandhi is advocating nonviolent protest against British rule in India, and the British are fighting the Axis in World War II. After Vidya’s father is critically injured during a protest, her family moves to Madras to live with her paternal grandfather and other member’s of her father’s family. (According to Indian tradition, they are honor-bound to take in Vidya’s family.)
Life for Vidya is much different in Madras than it was in Bombay. In Bombay, she played sports, had a loving relationship with her family, and enjoyed a great deal of freedom. In Madras, however, men reside upstairs, while the women and children stay downstairs and attend to all domestic tasks. Vidya is constantly ridiculed by two of her aunts and her cousin, Matali. She has very little freedom, and she longs for things to return to the way they once were.
One day, however, Vidya decides to climb the stairs to the men’s floor. It is there that she locates the library. She escapes her life through books. She also meets a family friend, Raman, who becomes more than just a friend to Vidya.
Read Climbing the Stairs for a moving account of a girl who finds meaning in her life through her faith, her family, and her freedom.
I really enjoyed this book (which is a little odd as I don’t tend to favor historical fiction). The main character is a strong female, even though she does occasionally bow to the dictates of her traditional Indian family. (I can also relate to this, though in a different way. It’s definitely hard to break away from your family’s expectations, especially in a good ole Southern Baptist family. And Mom, I know you’re reading this, so don’t freak out.) I think Vidya is a good example for teen readers. She wants to break out of the strictures placed upon her and be her own person but still retain her identity that her family helped her to form. As a bonus, she loves to read! Yay! Read Padma Venkatraman’s Climbing the Stairs for a wonderful story of becoming your own person.