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Fifteen Lanes by S. J. Laidlaw
Noor, the daughter of a sex worker, has grown up in a brothel through hardship, cruelty, and sadness. Grace, the daughter of a successful CEO, has her reputation tarnished by a vicious bout of cyber-bullying and spirals into depression. Can these very different girls learn from each other and eventually save one another?
I adored this book.
The biggest thing that I liked about this book is that the two girls, while both struggling, are not supposed to seem like they are facing similar challenges. Obviously, Noor’s situation is far worse than Grace, but Noor deals with hers resolutely while Grace falls apart. There’s a definite message here about the scope of our problems, our ability to see them clearly, and the necessary grit to overcome them.
Laidlaw also deconstructs the White Savior trope in this same fell swoop, since Grace is pretty useless, even after she pairs up with Noor in a mentoring program. Grace shows persistence and determination at the end, but only once it’s clear to the reader that she has learned this from Noor.
This is expert storytelling, too – I could picture the streets of Mumbai and the rooms of the brothel, even though I’ve never been there. I loved some characters, and pitied or feared others. In particular, Noor’s siblings are developed with amazing detail – I feel like I’ve known them my whole life.
One thing that I did not expect to feel was any admiration for Noor’s mother. I approached this character hugely biased against her for wanting her daughter to continue in the tradition of being a Devadasi (temple prostitute). And yet, as the story continues, we learn how much Noor’s mother has sacrificed to put her in a good school, and how much yet she is willing to give. She’s still not winning any Parent-of-the-Year awards, but she ends up sympathetic enough.
The falling action is well-paced and clear, though like life, not everyone gets the happy ending they deserve. I could have done without the cutesy “here’s what happened” narrative at the end, but if we all let a final chapter color how we see a great work of literature, Harry Potter would be out the window, wouldn’t it?
I would definitely recommend this to my high school students.
In the Classroom
Add this to your classroom library right away. This book provides a unique perspective, and gives a voice to issues often overlooked in our society. You can add this to lit circles or pair it with nonfiction texts about children of sex workers.
You could also recommend this book to students who enjoy contemporary dramas, or books focused on real-world issues.
If you would like to purchase the book, you may do so here at Amazon: Fifteen Lanes