Title: Saraswati’s Way
Author: Monika Schroder
Release Date: November 9, 2010
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genre: Teen, Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
Akash is a boy with a dream. Twelve years old, he lives on a farm in rural India, but he is lucky enough to be able to attend school. Akash is a math whiz, and he wants to complete his education and break the cycle of poverty that surrounds his family. But when Akash’s father dies, his grandmother sends him out to work in order to pay the family debts. Will Akash lose the drive to succeed, or will he find a way to make his dreams come true?
In her middle grade novel, Monika Schroder takes a look at the difficult world that Indian rural youth must face. Akash is a bright boy with a lot of potential, but he has very few opportunities. In order to continue schooling, he must find a tutor to help him excel so that he can gain a scholarship. However, there is no money for a tutor; Akash’s family is poor, already in debt, and an education has never been a priority, especially not over the family’s well-being. Schroder deftly captures so many aspects of rural Indian poverty with this family portrait – the emphasis on family, rather than on the individual. Akash’s dreams and hopes are subordinate to his grandmother’s wishes for him; she doesn’t see an education as an advantage because it will not help them rise out of their debt in the short-term. However, there is a double standard – Akash’s uncle is an alcoholic. Not only does he not contribute to the family, but he spends their money on his vices. Akash does not understand why he cannot pay a tutor to improve himself, but his uncle can throw money away.
Saraswati’s Way is a pitch-perfect commentary on the issues that plague modern day rural India. The fastest way to rise out of poverty is through education and investment in the futures of the young, yet in too many cases, the youth are considered a bargaining chip for the older generation. Of course, this is not the case everywhere, but many uneducated rural Indian citizens don’t understand the value of sending their children to school because the end benefit is not immediately realized. This makes this a great book to share with middle school aged children in the United States; it’s so easy to take the free public education system in this country (which definitely has its own flaws, to be sure) for granted, and it’s valuable for our children to learn what others their age are undergoing.
Saraswati’s Way is appropriate for a wide range of ages. The book has a hopeful note, though Schroder notes that most stories like Akash’s don’t have a happy ending. There are some run-ins with a drug dealer that parents might want to take note of, but overall this a great book for pre-teens and adults alike. It’s a well-written and fast paced story with a heartwarming main character that readers will root for from beginning to end.