Keeping Corner by Kashmira Sheth was the first of two books we were challenged to read for the YA Book Bloggers best Overlooked Book Battle 2011. This is my review of the story – but stay tuned for Evie at The Book Fiend and my evaluation of this and our second book, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell to decide which moves onto the next round.
I have to admit that I found this to be a very interesting book… Keeping Corner is set in 1918 and is the story of a young girl, Leela, who is married and by a fluke of fate, becomes a widow at the age of 13 before she and her husband have had their Anu (ceremony where the bride moves in with her husband). The act of keeping corner, is essentially that – staying in your parents’ home for 1 full year, no social interaction and removal of any and all luxuries. During this time in India, in the Brahman caste, once you are a widow you are seen as a bad luck charm and are never allowed to marry again. The rules are different for the men, but the women’s lives are brought to a dead halt.
I’ll admit I learned an awful lot about the customs and beliefs of India back in the early 1900’s. Gandhi was just coming into his own during this time and his influence was amazing and was felt across the country, including the tiny village of Jamlee. The year that Leela was keeping corner was truly a transformational year for both herself and the country. Leela continued her classes with the help of a progressive teacher, Saviben, who coaxed Leela into opening her eyes and seeing the world around her. By the end of her year, Leela and her family questioned many of the customs forced upon the young girls and broaden their perspectives on them.
I enjoyed this book, but in a different way than I have others. As a reader, I felt like I was always on the sidelines – watching this story unfold in front of me. At no point was I really invited in and allowed access to Leela… oh I know that sounds wierd – but as much as I enjoyed learning and seeing a different world and times, I was not able to connect with Leela – As with many other books I don’t carry her character with me once I’ve finished the book. Strange… But I’ll admit it was a book that I had to finish – I had to know exactly what was to happen. I also really enjoyed the family theme. We saw the hard-nosed father firmly rooted in his traditions, and then we saw her softer brother, who didn’t necessarily value his family’s traditions and was set on helping Leela find her own way in the new World. The way their society viewed life and the very important role that superstitions seem to play in society was just amazing. I think the scary part of this, is that I suspect some if not many of these societal influences still exist in some societies…
Ages: 14 and up
” ‘Don’t forget that sense arrives before beauty. God gives sense at sixteen and beauty at twenty for a reason.’ ” p. 65
” ‘…. Your inner self is like an onion: you keep peeling it, and a new layer is always there.’ ” p. 111
” ‘Happy times are light and fast, sad times are heavy and slow. They all end, though, and what remains is me. Just me.’ ” p. 261
Sheth, Kashmira. (2007). Keeping Corner. New York, NY: Hyperion.
Author blog: http://kashmirasheth.typepad.com/