Varsha Bajaj (Count Me In) brings awareness to the world water crisis and social inequality with Thirst, a moving, hopeful story.
Water surrounds 12-year-old Minni's island city of Mumbai, but most of the people Minni knows struggle to get enough of it. When Minni's brother, Sanjay, witnesses a "water mafia" stealing water from the community, their parents decide it'd be safer for everyone if he left home. Just as Minni is getting used to Sanjay being gone, her mother gets sick--something that's happening more often lately--and goes to her home village to convalesce. Minni must take over her mother's job cleaning a rich family's house, where she discovers information that could help shut down the mafia. Now she must figure out how to share what she knows without exposing her family.
In Thirst, Bajaj thoughtfully examines class and privilege, making topics like water access and income inequality accessible to middle-grade readers. Bajaj shows how a lack of clean water, decent health care and education can affect people's lives. Minni can't focus on schoolwork because she's hungry and exhausted; anger, fear and frustration frequently play out in the water line; and people adapt just to survive their environment (e.g., boiling water to fend off diseases). Water may not flow freely like it does in the high-rise Minni works in, but community and hope do. A sense of togetherness--whether it's Minni's aunties bringing her food or the school guard allowing her to enter school late--pulses through this meaningful narrative. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader