Homeless Bird

by Gloria Whelan

Paperback, 2001



Local notes

PB Whe (c.1)




HarperCollins (2001), Edition: 0, Paperback, 192 pages


When thirteen-year-old Koly enters into an ill-fated arranged marriage, she must either suffer a destiny dictated by India's tradition or find the courage to oppose it.

Original publication date


Physical description

192 p.; 5.13 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member Whisper1
This YA book provides a snapshot of Indian culture, rich in beauty, conversely with a stark dark side of some traditions that are abhorrent.

When young 13 year old Koly's poverty stricken parents arrange a marriage with a young man whom they have never met, Koly's fate seems sealed to a life of
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cruelty and abuse.

Married to a sickly, spindly, nasty younger boy who has TB, Koly soon learns the deceit of her new family and in addition is gravely mistreated by her mother in law.

When, shortly after the arranged marriage, the young boy dies, Koly is blatantly reminded that there is no responsibility by the boy's parents to take care of her.

Using her dowry for a last desperate effort, the trip taken by his parents to the Ganges river for healing of the young man merely hastens his death.

After her mother in law arranges a widow's pension for Koly, the money is stolen each month. Koly is unable to support herself when shortly after the death of their son, she is deserted in a Holy city filled with widows who are young girls and older women are also deserted and cast aside by the families who stole their assets.

Unable to bring shame on her family, Koly cannot return to her biological parents.

Penniless, hungry and destitute, Koly sleeps on the streets and begs for food.

When she meets a young man who assists her, she is taken to a home supported by a rich woman who helps widows. There she learns a trade and gains independence.

After reading this book, I realize I need to learn more of the Indian culture to discern if the author carefully researched her facts.
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LibraryThing member Niecierpek
Even though it is a young adult book, it is a beautiful and heart wrenching story of a 13 year old bride, and then a widow, set in contemporary India. It received a National Book Award and has been rightfully praised in many book reviews. “Graceful and evocative.” says The New York Times Book
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I heartily recommend it to everybody.
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LibraryThing member ewyatt
Koly is in her early teens when she is married. Unfortunately her husband is very sick and dies soon after the marriage. Because of the culture, Koly is stuck with her in-laws. After her father in-law dies and Koly's mother-in-law has abandoned her in a city for widows, Koly must figure out how to
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fend for herself and build a meaningful life. WOW! It's hard to imagine being a young teen (she's 13) and going through all that! Powerful look at another culture.
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LibraryThing member Hamburgerclan
This is a tale of a young girl from a traditional Indian family, Koly, who is subjected to an arranged marriage. (What date this story is set, I don't know. I'm assuming it's a modern day setting as the book mentions color photographs and computers) As you might guess from the title, it doesn't
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quite work out very well. How it doesn't work out, I won't reveal. It was an interesting tale, well worth checking out. The characters are done quite well, with a bit of depth to them. Koly especially is likable--I couldn't do anything but root for her as she faced the challenges ahead of her. I think the book also does a fine job of respecting the traditional culture. Ms. Whelan doesn't hesitate to point out its failings, but neither does she present it at as some horrible monstrosity which smothers any possibility of happiness. 'Twas well done.
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LibraryThing member jaia
Koly, a bright Indian girl who has an innate love of life, sees the life that she has known shreadded apart when she is married off to a boy who turns out to be on the brink of death. When the boy dies, her new In-laws no longer have a need for her, especially her mother in law. She is abandoned in
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the "city of widows", and must forge a new life for herself in a country that has no place for widows. The kindness of others and her art as an embroiderer lead her to find love when it is thought to be hopeless!
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LibraryThing member YAbookfest
Travel to India and meet Koly. Her family is so poor they arrange a marriage for her at the age of 13, hoping it will make life better for them all. But the boy she weds is seriously ill and Koly is soon widowed. In keeping with Indian tradition, Koly lives on with her in-laws where she is tossed
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between kindness and cruelty. Ultimately, she finds herself facing the plight of many Indian widows, outcast and homeless. Through her own courage, talent, and resourcefulness, Koly forges a future for herself.

Beautifully written, this book is engaging, touching and memorable. It is appropriate for middle school students and those interested in learning about India. For older students, it could be a springboard for human rights research and discussions.
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LibraryThing member mcrotti
Homeless Bird follows Koly, a 13 year old Indian girl experiencing a traditional arranged marriage. When the arrangements go awry and her sickly young husband dies, Koly is left to fend for herself as a widow. She experiences many setbacks, but eventually becomes self-sufficient, triumphing over
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the odds for girls in her situation. Koly defies cultural expectations by learning to read, finding an embroidery job for herself, and eventually marrying again to a man of her choosing.
This book gives pre-teen readers a glimpse into traditional Indian culture. Many Hindi words are used (and defined in a glossary at the end of the book). Young girls especially will enjoy and feel empowered by Koly's refusal to adhere to the roles that are assigned to her. Libraries could use this book in a pre-teen book club, especially if it is female-oriented. Young female readers can learn about traditions of another culture while simultaneously receiving empowering messages about strength and perseverance.
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LibraryThing member amusingmother
Supposedly a quick little read, I found myself taking my time in understanding a culture where females are only as good as their dowry. Once the in-laws are poor again, it may become necessary to lose the daughter in law for a new dowry. If she becomes a widow, the widow's check is not seen by the
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widow but the in-laws. She is stuck.Author paints a poignant and rather depressing picture of the women/girls of India, even in the highest class.On a personal note, I understand better why my Asian Indian sister-in-law, orphaned young, was still single when my brother found her and married her.He required no dowry.
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LibraryThing member rdelamatre
This serious, well-crafted book gives younger readers a glimpse of what life in India can be like for girls. It mixes sensitivity and understanding of the ancient culture with a critical perspective and an engaging, resourceful heroine. Highly recommended.
LibraryThing member Juliedevine
This book was absolutely fabulous! What a peek into the Indian culture.
LibraryThing member ranaemathias
Koly is a thirteen-year-old girl in India from a working-class family. Girls are not expected to get an education, except for how to run a household. Koly learns to embroider like her mother and women in her family who came before her. Their hopes and dreams are stitched into the designs they make
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on cloth to sell at market. Now it is time for Koly to get married and her parents arrange for a suitable husband whose family has the means to take care of her. A bridegroom is found whose father is of the same Hindu caste as her father. According to custom, they must scrape together a dowry and pay part before the wedding. The bridegroom’s family has deceived them; sixteen-year-old Hari is very sick and needs money to get treatment by bathing in the Ganges. When Hari dies, she must deal with a mean mother-in-law and a father-in-law who admits their deceit but now considers her a daughter. Receiving her widow’s pension only makes her more of a target for her mother-in-law’s wrath. The only consolation she has is Chandra, her new sister, and being taught to read by her father-in-law who is a teacher in the village. When Chandra’s marriage approaches, she finds out that her pension was used to as a dowry for Chandra. When her father-in-law also dies, she is forced to move with her mother-in-law to Delhi to live with her mother-in-law’s brother. Her selfish mother-in-law abandons her in the city and she must fend for herself. Destitute, except for a few rupees her mother-in-law tied into her handkerchief, she is befriended by a rickshaw boy who shows her where to sleep and helps her find work. He takes her to a widow’s home and finds that she is not the only young widow who has been abandoned. Here, she learns to cope and is given an opportunity to work and have a place to live. Her embroidery is considered a fine art by a wealthy woman patron of the bead stand she works at and she is offered a new job. Her growing friendship with Raji, the rickshaw boy, as well as other young widows in the house give her hope for a brighter future. Readers will learn a lot about the Indian culture and society values. They will come to know rich characters with the same hopes for the future as theirs such as prosperity, a sense of family, love and that hard work will take you far. To Western readers, there are some disturbing events in the story such as marriage at such a young age, the brutality of her mother-in-law and life on the streets. But Gloria Whelan treats these subjects with care and compassion and allows readers to comprehend the events without scaring them.
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LibraryThing member NMkimdykstra
Personal Response:

This was a great book. I listened to the audio version in my car and I was eager to get in the car to hear what happened next with this story. I have already recommended this book to some adults friends and will be sharing this book with students when school
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School/Classroom Uses:

I would love to do a book discussion group with middle school aged girls using this book. This could be done in a school library, classroom, or public library.
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LibraryThing member SadieReads
This is Koly's story about being married and widowed at thirteen, being abandoned in a large city, and surviving with the help of kind friends. Koly lives in India in a working-class family who marries her off to a family whom they believe will take care of her. Koly finds herself married to a boy
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not much older than she, who is very sick. His family lied to hers about his age and health
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LibraryThing member annissad
Like many girls in India,when she is thirteen Koly is getting married. When she discovers that the husband her parents have chosen for her is a boy who is deathly Sick and has parents who treat her like a outsider , Koly wishes she could fly away. According to tradition, though, she has no choice
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she cannot leave she would bring shame on her and her family. On her wedding day, Koly has no say wither she will marry or not.After her marriage, however, Koly's life takes an unexpected turn,Her husband has a terrible fate. His parents decide to leave her and she finds herself alone in a strange city of white-sari windows. Her only choice seems to be to give up on her dreams and join the other widows who chant all day for food.

The only main character in this story is year old Koly, who has dark hair, tanned skin, and blue eyes; she is very serious, playful, calm, joyful, friendly, careful, peaceful, and very helpful.Her One true passion is stitching. During the Story She stitches the important stages of her life and it ends up being and unexpected surprise.

I would Recommend this book for 10-13 year old girls
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LibraryThing member JanaRose1
At the age of thirteen, Koly’s family arranges a marriage for her. Tricked by her in-laws for her dowry, she is married to Hari, a young boy suffering from tuberculosis. Despite a pilgrimage to Varanasi to bathe in the sacred Gange River, Hari passes away, leaving her a widow at the mercy of her
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mother-in-law. A cruel woman, her mother-in-law criticizes everything Koly does, leaving Koly unhappy and trapped in a hopeless situation. Her mother-in-law then abandons Koly in Vrindavan, a city of windows. Koly’s story is one of tragedy and strength. Despite her untenable situation, she is able to survive, and even thrive on her own, something unheard of in India.
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LibraryThing member nwhite
This story, like the exquisite embroidery of young Koly -- an Indain girl of just 13 years, will weave its way into readers’ hearts. Despite her intense desire to stay with her family, Koly agrees, as is the custom for girls her age, to be married and move in with her in-laws so that her poor
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family might have a little more to share. When the marriage ends shortly in the death of her young husband, a series of events manipulated by her mother-in-law leaves young Koly alone and destitute in a large city where widows must beg for food. Her will combined with the embroidery skills she picked up from her mother, reading skills learned from her father-in-law and a lot of help from her friends leads this child away from her certain destiny for solitude and indignity to a life she can call her own. Inspiring and informative of Indian culture.
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LibraryThing member Packrat
I enjoyed this book and found the elements of the Indian culture to be fascinating. However, it did make me glad that I was never in a situation where I could be married at age thirteen. This book had a strong, interesting plot centering around problems that a young person from India and possibly
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some other traditional cultures might really have. The characters in this story came alive through the use of figurative language and depictions of their actions, but I will admit that the balance of good and bad qualities in characters was sometimes lacking. Koly was the only thoroughly developed character with balanced qualities, the other characters were mostly all good or all bad. The book's overall style did flow steadily and easily and it dealt with Koly's problems in a way that left me with insight into both Koly's life and into some aspects of one of India's cultures. The relatively happy ending at the end of the book may not have been typical of the same type of situation that some of the girls in India face, but it was presented in a believable fashion.
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LibraryThing member gabrielledanielle
I enjoyed the simple imagery
LibraryThing member maya697
Awesome! I LOVE this book!
LibraryThing member kay_mccay
This novel is a great way to incorporate multiculturalism to the classroom. It brings to light the practices of a culture that is unfamiliar to us in the U.S. Though it's easy to point the finger at Indian culture, the second half/end of the book demonstrates the parts of the culture that breaks
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away from its patriarchal counterpart. The book is also a wonderful portrayal of struggle and subsequent success. Many of us face hardships but with endurance and hope, we can find our way to happiness and learn to appreciate the many things we take for granted.
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LibraryThing member sshadoan
Beautiful, simple prose and a realistic and strong heroine. Love it!
LibraryThing member lilibrarian
13-year-old Koly is forced into an arranged marriage - and her sickly husband dies soon afterward. Now his family doesn't want the responsiblity for her, and abandon her at shrine in a city that is holy to widows. She needs to discover her own skills in order to survive.
LibraryThing member BKPietz
Overall, I enjoyed this book. I am a sucker for love stories and happy endings, so it was nice to go through the tough journey with Koly and have her story end with so many positives. However, this also gives a bit of a dangerous perception in regards to the fact that this type of ending does not
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happen for most girls and women who truly live through similar situations in the real world.
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LibraryThing member mburris1
Young Koly has truly had misfortune heaped upon her. Because of her family's economic situation, she has to marry at the age of 13 in order for her family to have enough food to survive. When they arrive at the bridegroom's house, they discover that certain things have been kept from them about the
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boy she is to marry. This foreboding beginning sets the tone for the entire book. Just when you think nothing worse can happen to Koly, something else does. It is a book you can't put down until you see how things turn out for Koly.
In addition to this being one of the most popular books my 5th graders read all year, one of the things I like about it is that Gloria Whelan based this book on actual events. She read an article in the New York Times about a woman in India who travels much the same path as Koly, making it even more heartbreaking and poignant. It is hard to imagine that such a thing could happen in this day and age, making it all the more fascinating to read about.
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LibraryThing member jeemra
I think that this book is a great way to expose students to the customs and traditions of South Asian culture. It is also a nice way to ease students into the use of metaphors, as Koly refers to a homeless bird, and other literary terms. Koly's struggle throughout this story and the exhibition of
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her passion and the way she uses that passion to push through these struggles is an inspiring story for students, who may also be struggling themselves in some way. Overall, I definitely recommend using this book in the classroom. Even to this day, it is one of my favorite stories to read.
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