My fifth grader came home from school to tell me about an amazing book her teacher was reading. It was based on real situations (from around the world) and was about a person who lived in a busy city and didn’t have any running water. My daughter was awed that this girl went into a building and was amazed by the water just flowing through the faucet. My daughter could not imagine a place in the world without running water in this day in age, so this really stuck with her.
The middle-grade book her teacher was reading, Thirst by Varsha Bajaj (Nancy Paulsen Books, July 2022), describes the very real situation that thousands of people live through daily. Minni and her family live in extreme poverty in the poorest part of Mumbai, India, and their small dwelling must share an unreliable water source and limited toilet facilities with the neighborhood. The water crisis is a central part of her story, as well as how changing family dynamics can quickly change a child’s future opportunities.
Money is very scarce for Minni’s family. Life becomes even more complicated when Minni and her brother witness a crime. The stress of this new complication is compounded when their mother falls sick and Minni must take over her job in a rich apartment building, all while finishing her important school-year finals.
Thirst combines so many elements in a short novel. In some respects, I felt it went too fast and everything rushed. First there was a series of profound realizations, and then it rushed to a tidy conclusion. In some respects, then, it was as convenient as a 40-minute television program: you could almost sense when each plot progression would come (and the sappy music would start). But, although the book felt somewhat short, it somehow did not really feel superficial. There was a lot in there, but it never felt forced. My daughter also didn’t find it too obvious (although she predicted). The writing was very accessible (one site puts it at a 4th grade level), so many children can learn of the impact of extreme poverty worldwide.
So, Thirst fits into an important place on the library shelf. Its a world issue book to illustrate the disparity between rich and poor in many environments. The story shows that this disparity affects not just water access and one’s overall diet, but also health, educational chances, and choices for the future. With a simple reading level, less than 200 pages, and a seventh-grade main character, I see Thirst as an ideal novel for a reluctant older readers, as well as any other reader not yet aware of the realities of urban settings around the world. It’s a great eye-opening book for a child.