From School Library Journal
Grade 7–10—In this tale set in 18th-century India, orphaned teen Anila is living with an Irish painter and his daughter in Calcutta. She misses her deceased mother and dreams of finding her father, who disappeared years earlier. A smart, unconventional girl with a talent for art, Anila has hit upon great good fortune. Her guardians are generous and influential and land her a job with an open-minded English naturalist who is conducting a river expedition to search for new bird species. The journey is intercut with flashbacks of her life from childhood to the present. The young woman meets with violence and harassment, but she is strong and forges on despite adversity. Her journey will captivate patient readers. Finn's first novel sketches vivid images of the Indian landscape, and her characters are as vibrant as their surroundings. The nicely paced story is well balanced between Anila's past and present.—Geri Diorio, The Ridgefield Library, CT
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Set in late eighteenth-century India, this layered, atmospheric debut follows a girl’s archetypal search for her own history. At 14, Anila finds herself alone in Calcutta. After her Indian mother’s death and her guardians’ move to Madras, Anila chooses to stay behind, hoping that her father, an Irishman who disappeared years earlier, will return. Searching for work, she finds a posting for a draftsman with a British river expedition. A talented artist fluent in both Bengali and English, she secures the job, and the subsequent journey parallels Anila’s startling discovery of her own family story. Chapters on the river intersperse with those detailing Anila’s previous life, creating a meandering, sometimes disjointed narrative that may slow some readers. Many, though, will be captivated by Finn’s cinematic descriptions of places, people, and the complexities of colonial rule. The characters’ appreciation for beauty and the well-told stories add lyricism to every page. Anila’s profound yearning for family, belonging, and a sense of self will resonate with many teens, particularly those who, like Anila, are caught between cultures. Grades 9-12. --Gillian Engberg