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Born Behind Bars  By  cover art

Born Behind Bars

By: Padma Venkatraman
Narrated by: Padma Venkatraman
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Publisher's Summary

"Venkatraman has never met a heavy theme she did not like.... Borrowing elements of fable, it's told with a recurring sense of awe by a boy whom the world, for most of his life, has existed only in stories." (New York Times Book Review)

The author of the award-winning The Bridge Home brings listeners another gripping novel set in Chennai, India, featuring a boy who's unexpectedly released into the world after spending his whole life in jail with his mom.

Kabir has been in jail since the day he was born because his mom is serving time for a crime she didn't commit. He's never met his dad, so the only family he's got are their cellmates, and the only place he feels the least bit free is in the classroom, where his kind teacher regales him with stories of the wonders of the outside world. Then one day a new warden arrives and announces Kabir is too old to stay. He gets handed over to a long-lost "uncle" who unfortunately turns out to be a fraud and intends to sell Kabir. So Kabir does the only thing he can - run away as fast as his legs will take him. How does a boy with nowhere to go and no connections make his way? Fortunately, he befriends Rani, another street kid, and she takes him under her wing. But plotting their next move is hard - and fraught with danger - in a world that cares little for homeless, low-caste children. This is not the world Kabir dreamed of - but he's discovered he's not the type to give up. Kabir is ready to show the world that he - and his mother - deserve a place in it.

©2021 Padma Venkatraman (P)2021 Listening Library

Critic Reviews

Venkatraman has never met a heavy theme she did not like....Borrowing elements of fable, it's told with a recurring sense of awe by a boy whom the world, for most of his life, has existed only in stories.”—New York Times Book Review

“Their experiences reveal the invisibility of low-caste people in Indian society, tensions between neighboring states over water supplies, and the unexpected kindness of helpful strangers. Kabir’s longing for freedom and justice underscores bittersweet twists and turns. . . . Kabir engages readers by voicing his thoughts, vulnerability, and optimism: While his early physical environment was confined within prison walls, his imagination was nourished by stories and songs. This compelling novel develops at a brisk pace, advanced by evocative details and short chapters full of action. A gritty story filled with hope and idealism.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"As in The Bridge Home, Venkatraman portrays children’s experiences of poverty and other social issues; here, she explores Hindu-Muslim animosity, how the Indian caste system predetermines social status, and how biased institutions interact with (and ultimately fail) those of lower caste. This earnest, heartfelt adventure will transport many readers to a different setting while guiding them to draw parallels with contexts closer to home." —The Horn Book

What listeners say about Born Behind Bars

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Amazing, age-appropriate, and truly moving book

This book has earned its way onto my list of books I will read each year with my 5th graders. The audiobook is a work of art. Padma's narration is beautiful, emotional, and just powerful. The topics discussed, the storyline, the focus on social justice all make this an essential read. Padma has created a masterpiece, and I can't wait to read her other work.

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  • 03-06-22

Beautiful Story!!

A heartwarming story of love, courage and justice!! I absolutely loved hearing the story told with an Asian Indian accent. It made me feel part of the story and the country.

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another great book by this author

The author tells the story on Audible. I enjoy listening to her read to me. She has a soothing voice and her non-boring, descriptive writing captures my attention.

I believe this book is written for adolescent children, which I am not. I purchased the Audible of her other book, the Bridge Home, because it was a reading assignment for my granddaughter. One day, I had a long car trip and decided to play that book. It was so good that I pre-ordered Born Behind Bars. This time, my husband and I listened. We were both mesmerized by the author's ability to take us there, to that jail, the streets of Chennai, etc (no spoilers!).

I do not want to say anything that will give anything away about the story, but will just say that while this one pulled at my heartstrings, the 2nd 1/2 of the book was a little less believable. Perhaps that is just as well after reading Bridge Home, which was completely believable and wished it wasn't. if you read Bridge Home, you will know what I mean.