Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins
IQ "How far these frames will travel? [....] Who are the lucky people who will buy them and never know who worked on them? Maybe one will end up in a young girl's room. She will never know a young boy like her made the frame with his sweat and tears while his heart ached for his family." Gopal pg. 154
Gopal is eleven years old and living with his little sister and brother (twins) and his parents in a rural Indian village. After a rough year for crops and looming debt payments, Gopal's father decides the family should move to the big city of Mumbai. Hopefully in Mumbai his father will find better work thus ensuring his family will have a better future. When Gopal's father leaves to look for Gopal's uncle, Gopal decides that he needs to find work before school starts. He meets Jatin, a young stranger who offers him a job at a factory. Gopal eagerly accepts but his mother is against the idea. When he tries to tell Jatin that, he ends up in a sweatshop making beaded frames. He makes no money and receives little food and he is not allowed to talk to the five other boys in the room. One night, Gopal decides enough is enough and shares a kahani (story) with the boys, thinking that it will help the boys open up. Telling stories has never been so freeing.
First off, I didn't love this book but I didn't hate it, it's firmly in the middle. The writing and characters are decent, but the plot is excellent. The story is very slow-moving and it was hard to stick with it. I felt anxious because I knew Gopal was eventually going to end up in a sweatshop and I wanted to both avoid that part and get to it quickly. Even once the story picks up, daily life at the sweatshop couldn't seem to capture my interest. Which makes me feel horrible for saying so. At first it was intense and upsetting, Gopal and the five other boys are beaten for the stupidest reasons and of course, they are underfed and working in cramped conditions. But gradually, I grew impatient with the story. Time flies by quickly and nothing really happens until close to the end when the boys start opening up.
For the most part Gopal fluctuates between sounding very old and wise for age, and then he acknowledges his terror at the situation he's in. He misses his family but he's trying to pull it together because he knows once he gives to a defeatist attitude, he's lost. Gopal is the typical noble young hero which can be somewhat annoying because I wanted to see a character flaw but given his trying situation, I let it go. Gopal was responsible to begin with and even though he's not the oldest one at the sweatshop, he continues fighting even when it seems that the other boys have long given up on changing their situation. The Incredible Quote I shared tore me up. How many things do people own or see in stores without knowing how they got there, who made them? I have no idea about the conditions under which my clothes get made. What if boys just like Gopal, Amar. Barish, Kabir, Roshan and Sahil made my picture frames, clothes, etc? It's a tough thing for me to wrap my mind around and really makes you wonder. I knew a bit about sweatshop conditions from my freshman world religions class, when we watched a video on Nike and sweatshops. Most people in my class thought it was a bunch of fuss over nothing. At first, I resolved to never wear any more Nike products. But doubt began to grow in my mind, maybe it wasn't as bad as the video made it seem? I'm ashamed to say I forgot all about it. This book made me uncomfortable because it reminded me that I didn't take the allegations seriously. But it's real, this story is based in real facts.
Boys Without Names puts a human face on child labor and for that it is both commendable and gut wrenching. The beginning is very, very slow but tough it. The start of the book is all about setting up the book with details of life in Mumbai, poverty and getting to know the hardships Goapl's family faces. Makes for a slow start and you're not in a for a treat once the book picks up. The story is absolutely awful in its subject matter and even though I never felt a personal connection with any of the characters, the plot drove the book and made me stick with it.
Disclosure: Won from Alyssa at the Shady Glade. Thank you!