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I am a huge fan of the culture of India. The colors, the fabrics, the foods, the sights, the people all fascinate me. I was privileged to read a beautiful new novel featuring a young woman in Boston discovering her Indian culture recently. On the heels of that, almost as I was turning the last page, Varsha Bajaj’s book Thirst arrived at my doorstep. Like the book I’d just finished, a major theme of Bajaj’s lovely book is family, the family that is blood and the family that is friends. In India, I read, there is no word for cousin. Everyone, whether blood related or not, is either a brother, a sister, an aunty, or an uncle. In Thirst, twelve-year old Meena finds herself, for a time, without her mother or her brother, both of whom have left Mumbai temporarily. Meena, taking on adult responsibilities while trying to maintain her school life and home life, discovers the value, worth, and love in all those who surround her. Family is a gift, and we all are richer if we invite that gift. But this middle-grade novel Bajaj has created is more than just a book about family and Meena’s growth. It is also a tightly woven story about greed and its consequences that will appeal to its young readers. Kids will undoubtedly admire Meena as she navigates her rocky life and heads toward solving a problem that affects her community. Finally, I am always more than delighted to find fine writing in any story. If a phrase or sentence stands out and speaks to me, then I’m a very happy reader indeed. In Thirst, I was doubly delighted for I think young readers are enriched and instructed when they read truly fine, imaginative writing. I was particularly struck by these three examples: “it felt like our promises were soaked in worry and longing,” “jagged words are flung at people like me all the time,” and “I drag the words Fail, Failed, Failure like a weight around my ankles.” With strong characters, a wealth of Indian culture, a great plot, and words like those, how can any reader not enjoy Thirst?
I recently picked up THIRST by Varsha Bajaj. I could not put it down. Varsha's narrative powerfully and empathetically captures one girl's fight for a fundamental human right: access to clean water. Set in Mumbai where water is a privileged commodity, like in many places around the world, the story is about how Minni stands up to the local water criminal. Varsha paints Minni's world with dignity -- while we sympathize with Minni's tremendously disadvantaged context, we celebrate the richness of her family love, school life, and deep friendships. The writing is simple, elegant, and nuanced. The themes are relevant and empowering. A MUST-read middle grade for children everywhere!
This amazing book follows the experiences of a young girl growing up in the slums of Mumbai, India. As the story opens, Minni and her beloved older brother Sanjay are sitting on a hill overlooking the Arabian Sea, admiring a bridge and talking about their dreams for when they grow up. Despite living in a poor neighborhood where the small homes are built almost on top of one another, and despite having the gather water each day from the local tap, Minni and her brother maintain a hopeful outlook. Minni hopes to finish school and get a good job to help support her family. Sanjay currently works at a restaurant, but hopes to eventually become a chef. But a dangerous encounter with the water mafia puts Sanjay's dreams on hold as he has to flee the neighborhood for safety. And Minni's school dreams take a dive when her mother gets sick and she has to fill in at her job cleaning for a rich family. And even winning a scholarship to attend a computer class doesn't make things any easier. Just when Minni rediscovers her hopes and dreams, she runs into a water thief. She is left wondering what the right thing to do is? Keep her mouth shut to protect her family and let the water thief continue to rob the neighborhood, or put herself at risk by saying something? Bajaj has created endearing characters who immediately drew me into their story. Minni's optimism, her sweet relationship with her family, and the firm friendship she has with her best friend Faiza all help carry her through some enormous challenges. The easy-to-read writing and the under 200 pages length make this an even more attractive package. I love stories like this one that provide a window to a world very different than my own. I look forward to sharing this great book with my students for many years to come.
THIRST has the ability to empower any child into believing he/she can make a difference in the world.
The tale masterfully takes us through a serious problem in India- water shortages and the water mafia. Anyone of any culture is quickly immersed into Minni's difficult but happy life in India. The details are spot on and the disparity between castes is blatantly obvious through the subtle language.
In addition, Varsha does an amazing job of connecting Hindus and Muslims together in a positive light. Minni and her friends are very likable and will leave a positive imprint in any reader's mind.
"Thirst” is a realistic fiction middle grade novel by Varsha Bajaj.
“Thirst” is the story of Minni, a girl who lives in Mumbai. Minni works through many struggles that impact her, her friends, and members of her family- all a result of the unequal access to clean water.
This was a book I started and finished today. It is abundantly clear why it was selected as a 2022 Global Read Aloud selection.
I couldn't put the book down, and I am so excited to read THIRST aloud to my 5th graders this fall. Great for starting discussions about equity, resources inequality, friendship, access to opportunity and so much more. Really engaging read.