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Outside In: 11/11/17
Outside In by Jennifer Bradbury is historical fiction about the Chandahar sculptor, Nek Chand. It's told from the point of view of a street boy, Ram, and was inspired by the author's time as an English teacher.
Though Ram lives on the streets and has to use his wiles to stay alive and provide for himself, he is oddly ignorant of his culture. He seems to spring into being on the first page with no past and no sense of self beyond that first page. He is basically a blank slate for Nek Chand to rebuild in his image — and it's off putting.
There's a lot going on in this book — a city still recovering from partition. A city in the middle of an economic boom — but not one that reaches everyone. There are still marginalized people scraping together what little they can — like Ram. And there are people who are trying to make the city a more beautiful place with their limited means, like Nek Chand.
While Nek comes across as a flesh and blood character firmly living in his time and place, Ram never really gets there. He is just there to be a conduit between the historical figure of the artist and the present day reader — presumably an upper elementary or middle grade aged American child. It's an unsatisfying disconnect.