Jasmina and her brother, Samir, lead an ordinary life with their parents in India. Then one day everything changes: a strange man shows up at their house offering them education and good jobs, and so their father sells both Samir and Jasmina to him. But instead of taking them to a school, the man leads the children to a sweatshop where they are to work as his slaves for a very long time – possibly forever. While Samir submits to his fate almost immediately, Jasmina never stops fighting to regain her freedom.
I really wanted to like this book, especially because the themes it touches on – slavery, child labour and trafficking – are so very important. However, I was left feeling very unsatisfied.
Good things first. I found the premise to be very good: a book written in diary form, giving some insight into the experience of modern-day slavery and human trafficking as seen through the eyes of a child victim of this horrific trade. And on a very basic level, this book delivered this. Jasmina does indeed tell her story, and describes her experiences and the people she meets, sometimes vividly. Her description of the working conditions inside the factory, for instance, makes it very easy to imagine the terrible situations the children find themselves into, and to feel the same desperation they do.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the rest of the book. Most of the time, I just felt like so much more could have been said about the various topics that are flashed throughout the book (like the horrors of child prostitution or street life) but it never was. The varied and vibrant Indian culture found little space inside this book, save for a few contrasts with American culture. Character development was also seriously lacking: almost all characters were one-dimensional, and didn’t feel like real people at all, with the exception of the protagonist. I really liked Jasmina, who is a bright young woman struggling to survive on the streets, and her resourcefulness and bravery were some of the best parts of the book. But for me that just wasn’t enough, and the lack of depth to both story and characters prevented me from enjoying this book as much as I would have liked to.
Overall, this very short book might be good for fairly young readers, or someone looking for a summary account of some of the issues connected with child labour and trafficking in India without going into a more detailed analysis. Regrettably, that wasn’t me.