Books set in Asia, Family dynamics, Fiction, Romantic Fiction, Social Commentary, Whelan-Gloria, Young Adult

#510 Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan

Homeless Bird by Gloria WhelanHomeless Bird by Gloria Whelan

Even in our modern-day world there are still places where past cultures seem to continue on unnoticed. There are still places where men take more than one wife and girls get married at thirteen.

Koly is thirteen years old when her parents tell her it is time for her to be married. She has been taught to embroider by her mother, who is paid somewhat handsomely for the task, at least considering their location in the country. A husband is finally found for Koly and a dowry is scraped together. Koly is not allowed to see her husband before the ceremony. At the ceremony the husband appears young and sickly, perhaps younger that Koly herself. After the wedding Koly is expected to stay with her husband’s family, but she is not allowed near her husband.

It turns our her husband Hari has a drug-resistant form of tuberculosis and he will die. The in-laws only wanted him to get married so they could spend the dowry money on taking him to bathe in the river Ganges. This does not work and only hastens Hari’s demise. He dies and Koly is now a widow. She is expected to wear the clothes of a widow at such a young age. She gets a widow’s pension from the government, but her in-laws take it. Soon her father-in-law dies as well. Koly is left alone with her mother-in-law. Soon they travel on a train, but Koly is left in the city of widows.

Eventually she does find a place in a widow’s house. It becomes apparent that Koly is living in the modern-day world. There are cars and computers. Koly’s talent at embroidery serves her well. She gets a job embroidering and also catches the eye of a young man who wants to go back to the country to farm. It turns out he really cares for Koly and does not care if she is a widow. He even built her a room to embroider in.

What I liked

While this is a work of fiction meant to appeal to a younger audience, Koly’s story isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Girls are still married very young in parts of the world. There is still such a thing as arranged marriage. There is still such a thing as a dowry. Essentially, you pay some man to take your daughter off of your hands. Books like this are a reminder to us that the entire world is not modern. There are pockets of the world where old traditions persist and they’re not always pleasant.

I liked that Koly’s story turned out alright. If this had been real life, maybe she would have found someone to care for her, or maybe she would have become a prostitute. The young girls of the world are always preyed upon especially if they’re from a particularly ignorant area.

What I didn’t like

I think that teenagers shouldn’t be getting married. The idea of arranged marriage is appalling to me. The idea of paying someone else to take your daughter off of your hands is also appalling to me. We can call it whatever fancy word or tradition that you want to call it, but in the end, it’s still human trafficking akin to slavery. Just because something is tradition doesn’t make it right. People should get married because they want to get married and for no other reason. You don’t get married because your parents arranged a marriage. You don’t get married because you got knocked up. You don’t get married because you’re a widow and you need someone to take care of your children. You don’t get married because you want someone to take care of you so you don’t have to work. You get married because you want to. Getting married for any other reason is stupid and your marriage probably isn’t going to last or be of any quality. Marriage is just too big of an undertaking to be performed without a true desire for it.

Just in case you can’t tell, I don’t think Koly should have been married.


I thought this was an interesting look into a world we don’t often think about.

Weigh in

If this were a book meant for an adult audience, what other trials do you think Koly would have faced?

Do you think people should have arranged marriages? Why or why not?


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