Do people assume you're silly or ignorant because you're a teenager? Have you ever been judged because of your gender? How about told you won't amount to much because of your race? Do you feel like your parents just don't understand you, like, ever?
Koly can relate. She might be a thirteen-year-old growing up in India amidst some outdated traditions about marriage and girls, but in plenty of ways, she's like every teen everywhere. She wants to do something with her life and follow her heart, but instead she's forced to marry a guy she's never met and do all the household chores for his family without complaint. Okay, so the whole forced-marriage bit might not be relatable, but the chores and lack of control parts definitely are.
Before you go thinking Gloria Whelan's 2000 novel about a teen growing up in India sounds a little depressing, let us tell you this: It is—but there's still a lot to love in Homeless Bird. Koly has more than her fair share of tough stuff to navigate (so maybe quit complaining about doing your own laundry, mmkay?), but she also has fun a lot, too. So cheer up already.
Need more convincing to crack open the cover? Homeless Birds was so popular with young readers that it won the National Book Award Children's Division and became a New York Times bestseller. Fancy, we know.
Let's imagine two lab mice. Let's also say they're writers (bear with us). Mouse A has a nice private cage and great food, while Mouse B has lousy food and a bunch of other mice in her cage that keep interrupting her. In A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf argues that men are like Mouse A and women are like Mouse B. And how can Mouse B—mouse anatomy aside—write well under such bad conditions?
This is exactly the issue at the heart of Homeless Birds. Even though Koly doesn't want to be a writer, she's an inspired artist at heart—she loves poetry, and she has mad talent as an embroiderer. But how can she recite poetry and think about her quilt designs if no one will even teach her how to read or take her seriously? This girl is Mouse B to the max.
Here's the thing, though: Koly never gives up hope, even when things are bleak. So even if gender issues don't interest you (or you're more of a Mouse A), we're betting you'll relate to her struggle to find who she is and what she wants to do with her life. It's a pretty universal experience, after all, no matter how many odds are stacked against you.
Now if you'll excuse us, we're hankering for some cheese.
Whelan on the Web
This is Whelan's website, a place to get the deets on all of her books, including Homeless Bird.
Hindu Hot Topics
Curious about Hinduism? This website has all the major facts you need in order to really start wrapping your mind around this major religion.
Cast Your Caste
Chances are pretty good you know next to nothing about the caste system in India. Here's a chance to solve that problem by doing a little reading.
Three Lucky Fourth Graders
Three lucky fourth graders had the chance to sit down and interview Whelan. Lucky you, here are the results.
Whelan Talks Coly
The author dishes on her life as a writer with a strong focus on writing Homeless Bird.
On the Big Screen
Check out this trailer for the movie version of the book. What do you think?
A Picture's Worth…
This video montage of the book is full of vibrant pictures and soothing music. If you're looking for some glimpses of India, definitely check this one out.
The Author's Take
Gloria Whelan talks about her career as a writer and storyteller. All you have to do is sit back and take it all in.
In Krishna Koly Trusts
Check out her trusted deity in all his blue glory.
The Cure of the Ganges
Even today, people flock from all over India to touch the sacred water of the Ganges.
Nothing can compare to Koly's unique designs, but this quilt is about as traditional as they come.
It's an Uphill Climb
One thing's certain: Raji's job ain't easy.