Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Book Review: Small Acts of Amazing Courage by Gloria Whelan

Small Acts of Amazing Courage by Gloria Whelan is the next on my personal list of potential Newbery award winners.  Whelan, who has written a number of historical fictions for the middle school age reader, returns to the country of the novel that won her a National Book Award for her tale of Homeless Bird.  But while that book follows the life of a traditional young native bride in India, Small Acts of Amazing Courage traces the story of a young woman among the so-called "British Raj"-- the British society that ruled India in the 19th and 20th century.

The protagonist, Rosalind, has lived a life of leisure and privilege in the British compound in colonial India, even during the years when her father has been off fighting World War I.  However, in this coming-of-age novel, the feisty lead character is coming to wonder about living a life of such abundance when so many native Indians live lives of such desperation.  The book is set in 1918, around the times of Gandhi's rise and the Indian Independence movement.  But when Rosalind attempts to follow her own conscience, she runs into major conflicts with the English mores, and especially with the expectations and political convictions of her own father.

I mostly like this book because of the wonderful job the author did of describing the life and times during a tumultuous period in a the fascinating land of India.  She introduces Gandhi (one of my personal heroes) and a simplified version of the drive for freedom from England by the Indian people.  Rosalind is a strong and moral character, but without becoming overdone or too one-dimensional.  Most of all, I like how she subtly demonstrated the concept that the subjugation of one people by another ends up trapping them both.  There are small acts of amazing courage by several different people on several different levels, making this an interesting story with a good message.

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