Friday 13 January 2012

13. The Best Day of My Life by Deborah Ellis

The Best Day of My Life by Deborah Ellis
Published February 2012 Allen & Unwin

From the publisher:

Even though Valli spends her days picking coal and fighting with her cousins, life in the coal town of Jharia, India, is the only life she knows. The only sight that fills her with terror is the monsters who live on the other side of the train tracks - the lepers. When Valli discovers that that her 'aunt' is a stranger who was paid money to take Valli off her own family's hands, she leaves Jharia and begins a series of adventures that takes her to Kolkata, the city of the gods. Valli finds that she really doesn't need much to live and is very resourceful. But a chance encounter with a doctor reveals that she has leprosy. Unable to bear the thought that she is one of the monsters she has always feared, Valli rejects help and begins an uncertain life on the street.

From reading the description you would be justified in think that this was a quite a harrowing novel, especially for children, but in true Deborah Ellis style, it isn't.  We are never told how old Valli is, and that's because she doesn't know how old she is herself, but at one point someone suggests she is about 9 or 10.  After running away to Kolkata and being thrown out by the woman she was left with, Valli has a conversation with a man who tells her how lucky she is to be on such an adventure, and so she begins her life 'borrowing' everything she needs, and the passing those things on to people who need then when she no longer does.

All the while Valli thinks she has 'magic feet', because she feels no pain, even when standing on hot coals.  It is not until she meets Dr Indra, that she learns she has leprosy, and that makes her a monster doesn't it?  When Valli learns to trust, she can start to change her life.

There is one element of this book that nearly pushes it up into teenage fiction.  When Valli runs away she stows away on a coal truck, and when the men driving the truck find her, they decide to take her to Mrs Mukerjee. It is never stated outright, but Mrs Mukerjee quite obviously a Madam in charge of a brothel where the girls don't get up until 11, and she plans for Valli to work for her.  It is here when she is being washed the girls see the white marks on her body and they throw her out with no explanation.  I don't think it is too much of an issue, but it is worth knowing about when recommending this book.

It's a little bit sad, very insightful, and overall an uplifting book that  makes you realise how lucky you are.

Who will like this book: Girls Age 11+
Read it if you like: Parvana by Deborah Ellis


  1. This sounds like a book that I would read...not an 11 year old! I find it so facinating a concept (content v's age appropriateness), I am compelled to read it, and I am sure when my kids are bigger, pass it on to them. Thanks for reviewing such a diverse range of books!

  2. Thanks so much for your comment. It's very nice to know someone is reading :)