Deborah Ellis’, best known at OLMC for her Parvana trilogy, depicts the disparity between Indian social classes in her latest novel The Best Day of My Life through the eyes of a young orphan girl, Valli. Daily life for Valli in the coal mining area ofJharia,India, is hard to say the least. She fights to overcome hunger, overcrowding and her uncle’s abuse. Valli earns a meagre living collecting coal and she is not allowed to attend school. Her greatest fear is being thrown to the ‘monsters’ in the nearby leper camp. This is truly a story of courage, hope and resilience.
On the best day of her life Valli discovers that the people she believed to be her family were not. Seeking a better life Valli stows away on a truck headed for Kolkata (Calcutta). She calls upon her innate bravery and resourcefulness to survive by begging and ‘borrowing’, unaware that she too is infected with leprosy. Fortunately Valli meets a doctor to offers to treat her “magic feet” in a leprosy hospital. But first she must decide whether she can trust this doctor and overcome her fear of lepers who she once considered as “monsters”. Over time Valli becomes compassionate for her fellow leprosy suffers and finds her place in a community filled with support, love and care. Importantly Valli sees hope for her future.
The novel is a highly recommended read for students in Years 7-9. The author has included notes on leprosy and a glossary of Indian terms. With its short chapters The Best Day of My Life is an accessible and easy read for students and is a compelling tale of a person’s strength over adversity.
No Safe Place emphasises the strength of human character and determination during times of adversity. Ellis, renowned for her Parvana trilogy, successfully captures the horrific experiences of young characters attempting to escape atrocities associated with war.
Orphaned 15-year-old Abdul flees war-torn Baghdad to a squalid, makeshift migrant community in Calais, France, with high hopes for a better life and opportunities in England. Following an altercation at the camp, Abdul escapes and in desperation sneaks onto a people-smuggler’s boat headed for England. He remains unseen until well at sea. On the boat Abdul meets Rosalia, a 14-year-old Romani girl who has escaped the white slave trade; 13-year-old Cheslav, a Russian military school runaway and 10-year-old Jonah, the people-smuggler’s abused nephew. Once isolated and hardened by their experiences, the four children form a friendship amid battling rough seas and a violent people-smuggler, who is eventually thrown overboard by the refugees.
While sailing toward England and enduring rough conditions, Abdul’s story merges with the stories of the other refugees, Rosalia and Cheslav, who dream of freedom and a life away from brutality and treachery. Flashbacks delving into the past experiences of Rosalia, Cheslav and Jonah draw the reader to a deeper understanding of their harrowing lives that now sees them with Abdul on the boat contemplating a brighter future. Together their myriad of stories of loss, despair and prejudice related in No Safe Place will evoke disbelief and sympathy from readers. During the treacherous boat journey the reader continually wonders whether the group will make it to England and what will happen if they get there.
No Safe Place is a story of courage and friendship based on the true experiences of refugee children seeking to find a place for themselves in the world. Strong and powerful themes emerge, including society’s attitudes to refugees, racism, desperation and hope, resilience, human rights and the importance of home. This well-written novel keeps the reader hooked until the end. With a fast-paced and vivid storyline, realistic characters that allow the reader to connect with their heart-felt stories and feel empathy for their plight, it is an easy-to-read and accessible novel for students in Years 7-9.
Copies of No Safe Place are available at the OLMC Library.