Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Fifteen Lanes

Author: S.J Laidlaw
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Canadian, Teen
Type: Paperback
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Tundra Books (Random House Canada)
First Published: April 5, 2016
First Line: "I was asleep on the floor under Ma's bed when I was awakened by the creaking of rusty springs straining under the weight of a heavy mattress."

Book Description from GoodReads: Noor has lived all of her fourteen years in the fifteen lanes of Mumbai’s red light district. Born into a brothel, she is destined for the same fate as her mother: a desperate life trapped in the city’s sex trade. She must act soon to have any chance of escaping this grim future.

Across the sprawling city, fifteen-year-old Grace enjoys a life of privilege. Her father, the CEO of one of India’s largest international banks, has brought his family to Mumbai where they live in unparalleled luxury. But Grace’s seemingly perfect life is shattered when she becomes a victim of a cruel online attack.

When their paths intersect, Noor and Grace will be changed forever. Can two girls living in vastly different worlds find a common path?

Award-winning author S.J. Laidlaw masterfully weaves together their stories in a way that resonates across class and culture. Fifteen Lanes boldly explores the ties that bind us to places and people, and shows us that the strongest of bonds can be forged when hope is all but lost.

My Review: Eye-opening.  Shocking.  Heart-breaking.  Hopeful.  Real.  These are just some of the words that ran through my mind as I was reading Fifteen Lanes, the new book by S.J Laidlaw.  This book is set in Kamathipura, Mumbai's oldest and Asia's second largest red light district and follows the lives of two teen girls who tell the story in alternating points of view. 

Noor is a young Indian girl who was born to a sex trade worker.  She takes care of two younger siblings and they live in a brothel with their mother.  She has higher hopes for herself and her siblings than following in their mother's footsteps.  Grace is the fifteen year old daughter of a Canadian CEO who lives in luxury in Mumbai, attends a private school but suffers from severe bullying by her peers and extreme anxiety. Laidlaw brings her readers into the private lives of these two girls with vivid clarity. 
With Grace the reader experiences bullying, suicidal thoughts and even self harm as Grace tries to overcome a mistake she made for which her peers will not let her forget. You feel her fear and helplessness with her situation.  While her station in life is good, her outlook is very bleak.

But, if I'm being honest, it was Noor's story that had me riveted and for which the book had more of a focus.  Readers will be shocked and heart-broken to see the life that Noor lives.  Laidlaw doesn't shy away from heavy topics such as prostitution, violence, extreme poverty, child sex trade, rape and abuse. Her world is so different from anything I've ever read before.  It's extremely impoverished, desolate and so very misogynistic.  It was depressing and heart-breaking to see these young women stolen from their homes to be sold into sexual slavery and used on a daily basis with little to no hope of escaping.  Yet, within their community, specifically within their brothel, you see their sense of community and unity that Noor and these women have with each other. 

One of the reasons that Laidlaw's writing is so authentic is because she brings real life experience to her writing. She has volunteered with NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) before, specifically counselling daughters of sex trade workers.  She has seen firsthand how these girls' lives are affected by where they live, their caste etc.  But she also doesn't have rose coloured glasses as Laidlaw states "I still have no illusions that I've transformed their lives, but I have no doubt they've changed mine."

When Noor and Grace finally meet they help each other giving each other what they lack - one, a friend and the other the possibility of a better life.  I will say that I felt that Noor and Grace's connection felt a little rushed.  I would have liked to have had more time to see their bond form.  And while Grace's story was interesting, Noor's overshadowed it and her character was much more interesting to me personally.

This is a wonderful book about strength, love, overcoming one's lot in life and compassion but I applaud Laidlaw for not making it about the rich girl saving the poor girl. Noor has a fire within her that is evident throughout the book and while Laidlaw shows weakness and fear in her characters the overall message is about strength and endurance.  This is a well researched book with strong, unique characters whose lives will pull at your heart strings, make you angry that people are forced to live this way and hopeful that girls like Noor will be able to make it out.

Highly recommended.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars 

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Tundra Books for providing me with a paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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