I KICK AND I FLY, by Ruchira Gupta, Scholastic Press, April 18, 2023, Hardcover, $18.99 (young adult)
I Kick and I Fly, by Ruchira Gupta, follows an Indian teenager as she escapes being sold into the sex trade and learns the value of her body through kung fu.
On the outskirts of the Red Light District in Bihar, India, 14-year-old Heera is living on borrowed time until her father sells her into the sex trade to help feed their family and repay his loans. It is, as she’s been told, the fate of the women in her community to end up here. But watching her cousin, Mira Di, live this life day in and day out is hard enough. To live it feels like the worst fate imaginable. And after a run-in with a bully leads to her expulsion from school, it feels closer than ever.
But when a local hostel owner shows up at Heera’s home with the money to repay her family’s debt, Heera begins to learn that fate can change. Destiny can be disrupted. Heroics can be contagious.
It’s at the local hostel for at risk girls that Heera is given a transformative opportunity: learning kung fu with the other girls. Through the practice of martial arts, she starts to understand that her body isn’t an object to be commodified and preyed upon, but a vessel through which she can protect herself and those around her. And when Heera discovers the whereabouts of her missing friend, Rosy, through a kung fu pen pal in the US, she makes the decision to embark on a daring rescue mission to New York in an attempt to save her. —Synopsis provided by Scholastic Press
I Kick and I Fly is one of the hardest, most inspiring young adult reads you’ll come across. The topic is not easy. The treatment of girls and women will make you want to scream. Yet, you’ll finish the novel better off than you were before starting it.
The book is fiction but is inspired by Ruchira Gupta’s experience making the Emmy-award winning documentary, The Selling of Innocents, an Emmy award winning documentary about sex-trafficking from Nepal to Mumbai, India. Most of the events in this book are inspired by real people, places and events, Gupta explains in her letter at the end of I Kick and I Fly.
At the center of I Kick and I Fly is Heera, a girl whose destiny is to become a prostitute. But Heera’s mother fights back, tries to buy more time, and Heera starts to hope — to dream.
Gupta’s prose is smooth and comfortable. She tackles a very complicated topic with heartfelt care. Though she never goes into explicit detail, the stakes are clear.
I Kick and I Fly is an intense and heartbreaking read that will resonate with readers long after finishing it.
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