Boys Without Names

Boys Without Names

3.9 21
by Kashmira Sheth

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For eleven-year-old Gopal and his family, life in their rural Indian village is over: We stay, we starve, his baba has warned. With the darkness of night as cover, they flee to the big city of Mumbai in hopes of finding work and a brighter future. Gopal is eager to help support his struggling family until school starts, so when a stranger approaches him


For eleven-year-old Gopal and his family, life in their rural Indian village is over: We stay, we starve, his baba has warned. With the darkness of night as cover, they flee to the big city of Mumbai in hopes of finding work and a brighter future. Gopal is eager to help support his struggling family until school starts, so when a stranger approaches him with the promise of a factory job, he jumps at the offer.

But Gopal has been deceived. There is no factory, just a small, stuffy sweatshop where he and five other boys are forced to make beaded frames for no money and little food. The boys are forbidden to talk or even to call one another by their real names. In this atmosphere of distrust and isolation, locked in a rundown building in an unknown part of the city, Gopal despairs of ever seeing his family again.

But late one night, when Gopal decides to share kahanis, or stories, he realizes that storytelling might be the boys' key to holding on to their sense of self and their hope for any kind of future. If he can make them feel more like brothers than enemies, their lives will be more bearable in the shop—and they might even find a way to escape.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When 11-year-old Gopal's family tries to escape crushing debt by leaving their village in India for his uncle's home in Mumbai, Gopal is eager to help earn money, especially after his father disappears. Gopal is fooled by the promise of a factory job and ends up a slave in a small shack with five other boys he must nickname because none is allowed to say his name. Suffering a under a cruel boss, Gopal slowly unites the boys though storytelling, with each boy reclaiming his past and his name. Sheth's (Keeping Corner) lush prose (“It is as if someone has rubbed this rough sack on my heart over and over again and made it bleed”) creates a vivid portrait of slave labor without losing the thread of hope that Gopal clings to. Though certain lines of dialogue seem improbable (“The promise was like a rose, but what I got was one big thorn of a boss”), the characters are strong and believable, with Gopal being particularly relatable. The happy ending may be slightly unrealistic but nonetheless satisfies. Ages 9–12. (Jan.)
School Library Journal
Gr 4–7—Eager to find work after his hungry family arrives in Mumbai, 11-year-old Gopal ends up locked in a one-room "factory" making beaded frames with five other boys so beaten down they don't even talk to one another. Gopal's story is not uncommon: a bumper crop year drove prices down, money was borrowed to pay for medicine, the farm was lost but the debt remained, and the family was forced to flee to the city to find work. Gopal stores up his memories of his rural Indian village, with its pond, fruit trees, and bird songs, contrasting them with the noisy stink of their new home at the end of a sewage-laden lane in an overcrowded shantytown. Readers quickly come to care for this clever, perceptive boy who tries hard to do the right thing. Suspense mounts as it becomes clear that escape from the sweatshop will not be easy: the other boys need to be convinced. Storytelling is the key to winning them over, and Sheth includes bits of tales both familiar and new. The author includes more about child labor at the end of this well-told survival story with a social conscience.—Kathleen Isaacs, Children's Literature Specialist, Pasadena, MD
Kirkus Reviews
The author returned to her native India to research this fictionalized expose of child labor. Eleven-year-old Gopal and his family, deeply in debt, flee to Mumbai to find work. There, a slick older boy offers Gopal a factory job, then turns him over to a ruthless sweatshop operator. Locked inside a decrepit building with five other despairing boys, Gopal quickly learns the routine. Long days of gluing beads onto picture frames, little food, stifling heat and occasional severe beatings with a rubber hose all keep the boys intimidated. Determined to escape, Gopal befriends the others with his storytelling talents, building bonds that will be useful if an opportunity to flee arises. Gopal is a likable child, and insight into the others boys' believable characters gradually evolves. Although the shocking conditions the boys endure are vividly and realistically depicted, this effort is overlong for the recommended audience of nine through 12, and many readers may give up before they reach the portion of the narrative where Gopal is imprisoned. An enlightening multicultural tale suggested for strong elementary readers and middle schoolers. (Fiction. 11-14)
Jacqueline Woodson
Boys Without Names is not a heartbreaking story, even if there are moments that break the heart. Instead, it is a story about growing up, about learning and relearning the meaning of family. This is one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Patricia McCormick
“Kashmira Sheth gives a name to the pernicious practice of child bondage in her unforgettable portrait of Gopal, a boy enslaved in a grueling factory job in India. And she shows the power of story telling to inspire acts of kindness and courage in even the darkest of situations.”
With echoes of the Lost Boys in Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion and even Slumdog Millionaire, this a tightly woven tale of a boy’s will to survive, the power of story and the bond of friends tied together in the hope of a better day.
Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
In the streets of Mumbai, India's great metropolis, live runaway, orphaned, and lost children who often fall into the terrible trap of child labor. Sheth, whom readers met in Keeping Corner and Blue Jasmine, explores this grim world in her new middle grade novel. Gopal's struggling rural family comes to Mumbai from the hilly terrain of Matheran in search of work. When his father disappears, young Gopal's problems are just beginning. He is drugged and kidnapped by the procurer for a child labor operation and put to work with a group of boys. Their conditions are dismal, and they are treated brutally. They work with toxic glue decorating picture frames, materials and tasks that reflect their downward spiraling lives. As the boys begin to come into focus for Gopal, he gives them names, initially in the form of offhand descriptions ("Dimpled Chin" and "Night Chatterer"). As they reveal themselves, the reader learns their real names and stories, until slowly and surely they start to create community. Sheth offers the reader many fine moments of resonance. She peppers the text with the sharp, pithy idiom of Hindi and Marathi, and even manages in a few places to convey their meaning deftly and contextually. It would be wonderful to see a lot more of this writing, as opposed to parenthetical translations that often step out of fictional space, especially in the first third of the story. The resolution feels a bit idealized, with the Mumbai police in the role of rescuers, where perhaps an NGO like those cited in the author's note might have offered more credible allies. The landscape is vivid and rendered with loving precision, from the cloud-draped hills of the Western Ghats to the television chants for the Ganesh festival. The author is familiar with this territory, and it is clear that she cares deeply for those who people it. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
VOYA - Leah Sparks
Eleven-year-old Gopal's family moves from their rural village to Mumbai to escape crippling debt and poverty following the loss of their onion farm. Shortly after arriving, Gopal's father, Baba, vanishes, and Gopal accepts a stranger's offer to earn money to support his family. The promised factory turns out to be a sweatshop in which Gopal and other boys are imprisoned by a cruel boss nicknamed Scar, who beats and starves them. Gopal eventually begins to connect with the other boys through the imaginative stories he tells them each night, and their new closeness gives the boys the courage to try to escape. Sheth, author of Keeping Corner (Hyperion/DBG, 2007/VOYA December 2007), chronicles her extensive research on child labor in an informative author's note that includes a short list of resources for further reading. Young readers will be intrigued by the Hindi, Marathi, and Sanskrit terms sprinkled liberally throughout the text and will appreciate the glossary Sheth provides to define them. Gopal is an appealing protagonist whose imagination, resourcefulness, and indomitable spirit will appeal to the intended middle school audience. Readers will root for him and cheer the novel's ending, in which he is rescued by the police and reunited with his family. Despite the happy conclusion, Sheth does not hold back in her depiction of the cruelty and suffering inflicted upon Gopal and his fellow child laborers. Unlike some children's novels on serious topics, though, this one is never preachy or heavy handed. Reviewer: Leah Sparks

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

What People are Saying About This

Patricia McCormick
“Kashmira Sheth gives a name to the pernicious practice of child bondage in her unforgettable portrait of Gopal, a boy enslaved in a grueling factory job in India. And she shows the power of story telling to inspire acts of kindness and courage in even the darkest of situations.”

Meet the Author

Kashmira Sheth spoke to many child workers in Mumbai as part of her research for Boys Without Names. Kashmira herself was born in Gujarat, India, and moved to the United States when she was seventeen to attend university. She is the author of Blue Jasmine, an IRA Children's Book Award Winner; Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet; and Keeping Corner, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. The mother of two daughters, Kashmira lives with her husband in Madison, Wisconsin.

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Boys Without Names 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Lindsey_Miller More than 1 year ago
What can I say about Boys Without Names? It is such an amazing book, that I'm not sure describing it, or just using words like 'moving,' 'poignant,' and 'beautifully painful' really do it justice. It's a simple yet profound story that everyone in America should read, not just teens. It's important that we as a culture understand that many of the nice things that we want at a cheap price often come at an incredibly high price for someone else. Including becoming a slave. Read it! Expand your worldview. Change your perspective on what it truly, tangibly means to have your clothes made in sweatshops in poorer countries around the world. Our rampant materialism is an oppressor to people in other nations, and we should have to account for it. Other than the message Sheth so profoundly communicates, the world she creates is beautiful. I can feel the heat, smell all the amazing smells, and learn a great deal about Indian culture. I feel as if I am also one of those boys without names, working in the sweatshop, and through their experience of creating family and bonds, and reminded fondly of my own childhood. All the more reason that I want to step into the story and save these children from injustice, and punish those who are responsible for it. It was everything I was hoping for and more, and I recommend that everyone read it. -Lindsey Miller,
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was really good. It was really disturbing vut a great story in all. Very suspensful.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
In BOYS WITHOUT NAMES, author Kashmira Sheth takes readers into the world of child labor and exposes the unbearable conditions and incredible horrors suffered by millions of children around the world. Economic conditions drive Gopal and his family from their tiny village into life in the city of Mumbai. Their trip from village to city is complicated by lack of money and difficulty with the language. Gopal, his mother, and his twin brother and sister are forced to live for several days on the street when Gopal's father goes in search of the uncle who was supposed to meet them at the train station. Not able to read directions and street signs, Gopal's father is lost, leaving the remaining family to struggle on without him. When they finally find him, Uncle Jama is able to provide food and shelter for them while he begins the search for Gopal's missing father. Gopal attempts to look for ways to earn money and help out. One day he meets a boy who promises work if Gopal will follow him immediately. Gopal is drugged and taken to a sweatshop, where he and five other boys are forced to make beaded picture frames by a cruel boss Gopal names Scar. The boys work long hours, are given very little food, and are able to bathe only once a week. Their days and nights are spent breathing toxic glue fumes in a poorly lit, stuffy attic. At first they work quietly, each dreaming of returning to families they miss, but as the weeks and months pass, Gopal begins to tell the group stories to pass the time and soon the others add stories of their own. All the while, Gopal plots his escape. The idea of leaving becomes more complicated as the six boys become like a family. How can all of them manage to gain their freedom from under Scar's watchful eyes and locked doors? BOYS WITHOUT NAMES is a story of survival and the determination not to give up even when facing insurmountable odds. Readers will be inspired by the courage and stamina of the six young boys as they endure terrible living conditions as well as physical and emotional abuse. Little more than slaves, they still remain hopeful that they will someday be reunited with family and friends.
Flamingnet More than 1 year ago
Running away from the law seemed difficult for Gopal and his family. Money in their meager Indian village was tight, and when his family couldn't pay off their debt, they had to escape to Mumbai. After Gopal's father disappears, Gopal is offered a job in a factory, and he takes the chance to earn some spare change. However, he ends up being drugged and whisked away with four other boys. All of them are forced to make beaded frames for no pay and little food. The only way they can survive and keep themselves sane is to tell stories. Their boss becomes more violent each day, and their need to escape is dire. Can Gopal save himself and his newfound friends before time runs out? Boys Without Names is a superb book. The characters are so real, and the material is raw. The realistic fiction novel Boys without Names details the situations some homeless children in India are forced to endure: harsh conditions, slavery, and working with toxic chemicals. The message is so powerful it teaches readers to never look at the world the same way again. I recommend this book to anyone ages 12 and up. Once I read the first fifteen pages I was hooked, and couldn't put it down. It seemed like I was one of the boys as their emotions poured out onto the page Note: this book contains some harsh and graphic situations Reviewed by a young adult student reviewer Flamingnet Book Reviews Teen books reviewed by teen reviewers
CrazyQuilts More than 1 year ago
Gopal's family lives in rural India where they are tied to the land. One bad crop, one illness, just one accident will secure those ties and deepen their debt. The ties are so tight, that Gopal's father decides to move the family to Mumbai where they can be helped by relatives and Baba (dad) can find work. The family faces several tenuous situations in their travel to find Gopal's Uncle Jama and in most of these situations, we're able to see the goodness of people in India. Given the terror that is about to strike Gopal, it's important that the author remind us that there are people who choose to do good or to do bad in India as there are everywhere. Gopal is a very smart young but in his cleverness, he gets snatched up and taken to be a child laborer, spending his days gluing beads to photo frames all day long. Gopal soon realizes that he's had something most of the boys he's working with have not: he's known his family and he is confident in who he is. In his upbringing, many lessons were taught through strorytelling and this helps him develop many critical thinking skills that keep him mentally one step ahead in most situations. Boys without names is a story with a very authenticl feel to it and it gives us insights into the very real work of child slavery. It is not a painful read, but suspense builds as Sheth skillfully uses Gopal's voice to explore possibilities and plan for the future, something the boys had previously refused to do. Sheth conveys how adults can manipulate and control children and successfully describes the horrendous conditions the children live in. Nonetheless, the story remains hopeful as through Gopal's eyes, we begin to see how things work, how relationships form and how things might change. The author wrote this book after being approached by HarperCollins and she based many of the characters and situations on experiences she had while traveling in India. This book is quite a change from her previous book, Blue Jasmine but both books are full of the language, rhythms, values, foods and relationships of Indian culture.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a awesome book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Its an ok book that has a great plot.I does happen to have a slow start though so u might not lile reading this book. :)
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maestraMG More than 1 year ago
Kashmira Seth writes a great novel for young people (and older people, too). Immerse yourself in Indian culture as you travel with Gopal's family from their small town to the big city of Mumbai. Ms. Seth writes with intimate knowledge about the trip from a boy's point of view, intertwining Indian culture with the twists of consequences from decisions made by Gopal. I was engrossed in the story of this believable character and finished it in one weekend before I passed it on to my son. The story lends itself to great discussions about some very real topics: child labor, migration from town to city, family, character, risk taking just to name a few. This book would be a nice study for middle to high school students or book club.
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I have the hard cover copy of this book and love it
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