Keeping Corner

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In India in the 1940s, thirteen-year-old Leela's happy, spoiled childhood ends when her husband since age nine, whom she barely knows, dies, leaving her a widow whose only hope of happiness could come from Mahatma Ghandi's social and political reforms.
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In India in the 1940s, thirteen-year-old Leela's happy, spoiled childhood ends when her husband since age nine, whom she barely knows, dies, leaving her a widow whose only hope of happiness could come from Mahatma Ghandi's social and political reforms.
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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Twelve-year-old Leela has always led a charmed life. A member of a high caste in India in 1918, she barely notices the unrest brewing between her countrymen and the British. When her husband dies from a snake bite, Leela’s life is completely turned upside down. Now a widow, she is forced to “keep corner” for a year and mourn her husband, even though they had not even shared a home yet. Her isolation is bearable only due to visits from her tutor and her older brother. Through them she learns about Gandhi and his teachings, especially those about equal rights for women. Leela wonders why widowers may remarry and live fulfilling lives, while widows must be shunned as long as they live. Even though people in the town are beginning to talk of how Leela’s behavior is shaming her family, Leela begins to dream of defying custom and continuing her education. This amazing story offers a new take on the concept of women’s rights in a historical setting not often seen in children’s literature. Reviewer: Amie Rose Rotruck
Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
In 1918, in India, twelve-year-old Leela's world revolves entirely around the trinkets and saris she wants to buy, as well as the impending anu ceremony that will move her into the home of her in-laws, whose son Ramanlal she was wed to at the age of nine. She sees Ramanlal in brief, passing encounters and feels drawn to him in a touchingly naive, mildly flirtatious pre-adolescent way. As for the larger world of British India in which Mahatma Gandhi is fighting oppressive taxation and where the term "satyagrah" is beginning to gain currency, Leela could not care less. Then young Ramanlal dies of a snakebite, and suddenly Leela is a widow. She is subject to all of the social sanctions that pertain to widows in traditional Hindu society. Her glass bangles must be broken; her head must be shaved. She must wear a widow's drab sari instead of a wife's colorful fabrics and jewelry. She must stay in the house for an entire year, "keeping corner." Kashmira Sheth (Blue Jasmine and Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet) really hits her stride with this touching novel about a child widow coming to terms with herself, her society, and the history that is being made around her. Secondary characters support the protagonist's story while adding historical verisimilitude. Among them are the brother who rails against the outmoded customs, and the teacher Saviben who brings hope in the form of education. Leela's thinking evolves throughout the book, increasingly reflecting the turbulent political and social change taking place around her. In the end, the step she takes is poignant in its shyly emerging confidence. The book's close is one of promise, not fulfillment, and it is all the more effective forthat. The writing is simple and well-paced, and much of the imagery is delightfully tricked out in the regional specifics of Gujarat cotton, fluffier than a fool's thought and ripe with bad omens, simultaneously convey meaning and culture with a light touch. Only the repeated use of parenthetical comma phrases for translation jars. A writer this skilled can surely find a subtler way to weave the necessary Gujarati words into the story. Bapuji's capitulation toward the end feels a little too easy. Still, Sheth's historical India and the characters who occupy it are convincing and multi-layered. The author braids intricacies of caste, region, and religion into the narrative in a way that reveals an intimate familiarity with the issues. This novel is an admirable addition to the emerging body of YA literature that reflects South Asian perspectives. It is well worth reading and rereading. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
School Library Journal

Gr 6-9
Married at age 9, 12-year-old Leela looks forward to her anu , the ceremony to send her to her husband's home. Instead, his sudden death forces the young widow to stay in her own home for a year and face a bleak future. Suddenly, her life is "living death." The privileged Brahmin child living in rural India in 1918 can no longer wear the brightly colored clothing and beautiful jewelry she loves; her head is shaved. Even after her year in isolation, others will shun her or worse. Luckily for Leela, her older brother finds a teacher to tutor her, preparing her for examinations that might allow her to go on to school and a career in a less traditional city, if her family can be convinced. Thanks to the teacher's assignment to note and record details of the simple world in which Leela is confined, readers are immersed in sensory detail: the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells that surround her. Leela reads the newspaper, learning about Gandhi, whose influence is just beginning to be felt in a series of nonviolent protests. Her recognition of the unfairness of her situation and her growing personal strength is paralleled by changes in her country, long ruled by the English and by rigid tradition. As in Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet (Hyperion, 2006), Sheth provides a first-person narrative with a strong protagonist and rich sense of place, with the added bonus of an unusual historical perspective.
—Kathleen IsaacsCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
In Gujarat, India, during World War I, Mohandas Gandhi has opened an ashram attracting followers to his movement for Indian self-determination. In a nearby village, Leela, 12, married at age nine, looks forward to moving to her husband's home. When he dies unexpectedly, Brahman custom requires her confinement at home for a year, "keeping corner." Prohibited from ever remarrying, her head shaved and pretty saris put away, Leela faces a barren future. Her loving family is heartbroken, but only Leela's brother has the courage to buck tradition, hiring a tutor to educate her. This powerful and enchanting novel juxtaposes Leela's journey to self-determination with the parallel struggle of her family and community to follow Gandhi on the road to independence from British rule. Among the vivid and appealing characters is India itself. Natural and human cycles-dry and monsoon seasons, landscape and animals, customs religious and secular-are rendered with a rich sensual palate. We leave Leela and her country poised to cross the threshold of autonomy at that enchanting moment when anything seems possible. (Fiction. 12+)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786838592
  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
  • Publication date: 10/30/2007
  • Pages: 288
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 760L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Kashmira Sheth was inspired to write her first novel, Blue Jasmine, by her own experiences as a teenager who moved from India to the United States. The book went on to win an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award. Kashmira is also the author of the young adult book, Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet. Kashmira lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her family.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2008

    I loved this intense, moving, and colorful book about a girl's struggle for equality. The setting--1910s India--is as vividly portrayed as the characters in this wonderful book.

    This is a great book for anyone interested in India, Gandhi, or women's rights anywhere in the world. Leela is strong character who is determined to stand up for herself against society's pressures to stay out of sight. Sheth skillfully weaves India's struggle for independence into Leela's personal struggle for freedom. An excellent book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2008

    Keeping corners's a keeper

    A good enough story to make me thankful I grew up in America in a time when a 12 year old is still a kid. However, I thought it ended a bit abruptly.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted November 17, 2009

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    Posted November 17, 2009

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    Posted July 16, 2010

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