Whelan, Gloria. Homeless Bird. HarperCollins, 2001. ISBN 978-0064408196 192 pp. $7.99
Thirteen-year-old Koly enjoys her pastoral life with her family, embroidering with her mother and sneakily learning to read from her brother’s lessons. When she is “kicked out of the nest” (betrothed) she accepts the prospect of marriage like a dutiful daughter, in spite of her fears and questions. The match turns out to be a sham; her new in-laws simply want her dowry to try to heal their invalid son, who passes away quickly.
Widowed within months, Koly is powerless in her new life, her friendship with her sister-in-law one of her only pleasures. During a trip to the city, Koly’s demanding mother in-law deserts her, and Koly is brought to a home for widowed women trying to put their lives back together. There she develops friendships with peers, finds a job doing what she loves, gets an apartment of her own, and meets a hardworking young farmer whom she thinks any girl would be lucky to have. After years of being a bird that flits from place to place, will she ever find a place to call home again?
Whelan’s story is like a richly embroidered tapestry itself, filled with intricate details of the sights, sounds and customs of a modern India that is timeless and complex, a place where arranged marriages and duty are contrasted with blue jeans and free choice. The writing is simple and the story engaging.
The book, a non-trade-sized small hardcover, is decorated with delicate birds and scrollwork, and the title and chapter headings are printed in an appropriately Arabesque or Persian font. A glossary of Hindu words completes the book, and an endnote mentions the famous Indian poet Radindranath Tagore, whose work is introduced to readers through Koly’s love for poetry. This is an excellent multicultural piece for middle and high school students; purchase where there is demand for such literature.