Title: FIFTEEN LANES
Author: S.J. LAIDLAW
Genre: FICTION, YOUNG ADULT FICTION
Length: 304 pages
Type of Book: HARDCOVER
Price: $21.99 CDN / $17.99 USD
Publisher: TUNDRA BOOKS
Release Date: April 5, 2016
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
* I received a free hardcover copy of this book through the Goodreads Giveaway program.
Heart-wrenching, illuminating, beautiful and horrific in equal measure. This book is simply brilliant.
Set in the city of Mumbai, this is the story of two young women who live within a few miles of each other, but whose lives are worlds apart.
Noor has spent the entirety of her young life living with her mother in a brothel in the heart of the FIFTEEN LANES that comprise Mumbai’s red light district. She is fated to soon follow her mother into the business of prostitution. If she is to have any hope of escaping that fate, she will need to act soon. But, she is devadasi which means that, as the eldest daughter, she is fated to follow in her mother’s footsteps. As far as Indian culture is concerned, she has no say and absolutely no choice in the matter.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the same city lives fifteen year old Grace. As the daughter of the CEO of one of India’s largest banks, Grace has been brought up with every privilege money can buy. She has never visited the slums that are located so close to her luxury apartment complex. In fact, in her blissful teenage ignorance, she is not even aware that places such as Noor’s home exist.
Author S.J. Laidlaw has crafted an engrossing tale in which a series of events occur that lead Noor and Grace to cross paths and in doing so their lives become inextricably entwined.
I am loathe to give away too much of the plot while writing this review, so I will refrain from writing any more details. However, this is a book that lends itself to discussion. In fact, I would highly recommend this to any and all book clubs.
Some people might wonder if an Canadian-American author could possibly write authentically about life in the red light district of Mumbai and I admit that I wondered the same thing myself. However, upon reading the Author’s Note at the end of the book as well as reading S.J. Laidlaw’s biography, I no longer doubt her credentials. She is, in fact, uniquely qualified to author a book on this subject.
S.J. Laidlaw is not your typical author. She does not sit at home in her comfortable North American home and imagine what life in foreign locales might be like. She is as far from that typical stereotype as it is possible to be.
In fact, she “… first started volunteering with sex workers’ daughters in Kamathipura, the largest red-light district in Asia, in March of 2013.” In the “Author’s Note” at the end of the book, she says that even though she had previously received training in working with sexual violence victims, she “… wasn’t entirely prepared for the level of violence and degradation [that the girls were] routinely exposed to.”
The quote that I agreed with and that affected me the most was when the author stated: “More disheartening still is the extent to which a large portion of society has turned its back on them. Time and again [the author has] heard stories of girls being shunned, even asked to leave school, when it was found out their mothers were sex workers – no matter that the vast majority of their mothers had been trafficked into the life and were victims themselves.”
To me (and to most North Americans) this kind of apathy and acceptance of horrific acts is almost inconceivable. This book, although fiction, opened my eyes. I hope that it does the same for everyone who reads it.
I rate this book as 5 out of 5 stars. Once you start reading, you will be unable to put it down. Even though the subject matter is bleak at times, it is ultimately a story of strength and hope and it deserves to be read.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Born in Philadelphia, S.J. Laidlaw spent most of her childhood in Toronto. After completing an undergraduate degree in English, she ventured to Africa as a volunteer teacher. There she discovered that her students needed as much guidance and support outside the classroom as in it, so after three years, she returned to Canada to complete a graduate degree in clinical social work.
Since then, she has worked as a counselor in many countries and led workshops for parents and educators on raising and working with third-culture children. Her first book, An Infidel in Paradise, won the IODE Violet Downey Book Award, and her second book, The Voice inside My Head, was chosen as a 2015 CLA Young Adult Book Honour Book and has been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award (winner to be announced). When she is not writing, S.J. Laidlaw currently volunteers at a night shelter for the children of sex workers in Mumbai. Visit her website at www.sjlaidlaw.com
The author currently lives in Mumbai, India.