No Ordinary Day

Book by Deborah Ellis

Review by Fatima Khan, Associate Producer, ReadingWithYourKids.com

I enjoyed reading No Ordinary Day!

This book took about an hour to read and has become one of my favourite books on Epic. Once I started reading, I could not put the book down and instantly felt a connection with the main character “Valli”. She is a wonderful character who is bright, brave and outspoken. This book is a realistic fiction novel written by Deborah Ellis that teaches the heroism of people around the world who are struggling for decent lives, and how they are trying to remain kind in the spite of it. I would recommend this book for middle school readers. My favourite part in this book, “Nobody really owns anything. We give back our bodies at the end of our lives. We own our thoughts, but everything else is just borrowed. We use it for a while and then pass it on. Everything. We borrow the sun that shines on us today from the people on the other side of the world while they borrow the moon from us. Then we give it back. We can’t keep the sun, no matter how afraid we are of the dark”.

It is a story of Valli who lives in Jharia, India. She spends her days picking up stray pieces of coal to cash in for money for food. Coal fires have been burning under the town for nearly one hundred years. Coal is in the air which comes up through cracks in the earth. If you’re a man, you work in the mines or the pits, hacking at the coal with pickaxes and shovels. If you’re a woman, you walk up the narrow steep trails with large heavy baskets of coal on your head. Children pick up any stray lumps they can find.

Valli has no friends other than her “cousins” and they throw rocks at the lepers who live across the railway tracks. They think they are monsters who will eat them up. One day Valli discovers that her “aunt” is not really related to her at all, but merely some woman who was paid to take Valli off her Grandparent’s hands. When she finds out that these people are not her family, she makes a daring escape.

She climbs into the back of a coal truck and buries herself beneath the black coal deciding to go wherever the truck takes her. During one of the two men’s stops, they discovered Valli in the back and took her to a woman they know who was known for taking in stray and abandoned children and forced them into prostitution. Once the woman was able to wash the layers and layers of black coal off Valli’s body and out of her hair, she soon discovered that Valli had leprosy and kicked her back out onto the street. Valli found herself in Kolkata, which is the capital city in West Bengal, India which used to be called Calcutta. She slept on sidewalks, in doorways, in cemetery’s, and other places she could find. She begged for money for food or tried to impress tourists with a few words in German and English that she had learned. This was usually enough to garner her a few rupees.

One day, Valli meets a doctor who takes her to the hospital where she works. Valli is grateful for the care she receives until she realises she is with lepers. Valli runs away from the hospital, but finally recognises the benefits and returns. She learns to accept her condition and see past leprosy’s marks in others to discover the real person.

This was a beautifully written book that is written without the usual “fear” that we all feel when we hear the word “leprosy”. Deborah Ellis was able to explain about this disease beautifully in layman’s language. She explains how one contracts it, and what the cure is.

She explains that Leprosy is caused by a bacterium that destroys the nerves in the cooler parts of the body, especially in the hands, feet, skin, and eyes. It can begin to show itself as white or discoloured patches on the skin. If it remains untreated, it starts to take feeling out of hands and feet. People become unable to feel pain, and they can’t tell when they become injured. Their injuries lead to infection and permanent damage.

Leprosy is one of the oldest recorded diseases in human history. It is now curable with medications, surgery, and skin grafting. However, because of its ability to disfigure, it is a disease that has been much feared and misunderstood. In many communities, people with leprosy are still cast out of mainstream society because the community doesn’t understand that leprosy is hard to get and can be cured.

This book has so much to teach about family, friendship, acceptance and survival. This will also introduce young readers to homelessness, leprosy, and child prostitution. While some of the cultural terms used in the novel would be difficult to understand the story but there is a glossary listed for those terms at the end of the book. I enjoyed reading the book as it ended on a hopeful note!

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