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Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

*Anila's Journey* by Mary Finn- young adult book review
Anila's Journey
by Mary Finn
Grades 10+ 320 pages Candlewick October 2008 Hardcover    

Miss Anila Tandy has rare ability to extract from Nature nothing more and nothing less than what is given. She does not embellish or decorate on page, she recreates the diversity of creation and the beauty of line...In addition to her natural genius for draughtsmanship, she is a honest and thoughtful young person and has an original cast of mind in two languages, English and Bengali.
Thus writes Anila's guardian in response to an advertisement in the Calcutta Gazette asking for an apprentice draughtsman for a naturalist. Anila is a mixed-race child in Garden Reach Calcutta in the early days of the East India Company. It gradually emerges that her father, an Irishman by the name of Patrick Tandy, and Annapurna, her mother and the beautiful daughter of a boatman, are not around. Annapurna is dead and Patrick has never returned from Ireland, to which he set sail after his father's death. Anila's memories are crowded with Patrick affection and his promise to her and her mother to return and take them with him.

With the East India Company's expansion in Bengal in the late eighteenth century, Europeans often had romantic liaisons with Indian women and imbibed various aspects of Indian culture and living. Paintings from period often portray these men surrounded by their Indian concubines or mistresses.

Interestingly, Calcutta, where this novel is set, has at the central square or Maidan a huge and impressive column that was raised in the days of the East India Company. Known as Shahid Minar today, it was originally built to commemorate the English general, Sir David Ochterlony. Octerlony was no typical English general. A miniature painting in New Delhi's museum shows him dressed in full Mogul regalia, reclining on pillows and bolsters watching Indian nautch girls. Every evening, his 13 bibis - or "wives" - would appear in procession behind their husband, each seated on the back of her own elephant.

Annapurna is a boatman's daughter when Patrick Tandy sets eyes on her, and he is besotted. Frightened of famine and disease, her family part with her secure in the thought that she would not die of starvation or illness. Annapurna and Patrick Tandy do not set up house in the conventional sense; she boards with two other women who are bibis of other Englishmen. Later, when Tandy leaves, Annapurna catches the eye of another Englishman.
My mother never caught fish down by the river. She caught men instead.
Later when her mother is in tears, Anila intervenes.
But we are so hungry, Ma. If he gives us the money what harm can that do.
It is at the library in the house of Mr. Bristol that Anila develops an interest in reading. From her father, she possesses a rare gift for drawing and sketching. All of this makes her an unusual girl.

Most interesting to me about Anila's Journey are the references to Calcutta of the late eighteenth century. The Garden Reach area exists to this day; the Armenians still run old quaint stores in the city. Miniatures and paintings of the bibis of Englishmen adorn many galleries in art museums across India and the world. Anila’s mother, too, sits for portraiture.
Every shot and glimmer of her green silks seemed to move as they did in life. He had found the glossy black for her hair and had worked that into life also, so that you could believe her braid would toss any moment if a breeze came past the pillars in the porch. Her skin, for which I had not believed he would ever find the colors, looked as alive as if there were blood under it.
Aside from the depiction of life in Calcutta of the East India Company days, what I most appreciated are the descriptions of Anila's extraordinary talent, her sketches of birds and other wildlife and her passion for drawing. Anila's love and affection for her father and her refusal to believe that he may be dead, waiting for him in Calcutta lest she lose him, make the plot very charming and touching.

That is not to say that the storyline and plot are any less cliched, especially the friend's romance and the finding of an excellent benefactor in Mr. Walker. All the characters seem so sugary sweet that I breathed a sigh of relief at the arrival of an irritant in the form of Carlen. Nevertheless, a remarkable read overall.
Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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