Book Review: The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Posted February 24, 2021 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

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The Night Diary

The Night Diary

by Veera Hiranandani

Publisher: Kokila on March 6, 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction
Target Age Group: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Representation: BIPOC Character(s), Indian Character(s), Own Voices Author
Content Warnings: Blood, Death, Death of Parent, Islamophobia, Religious Bigotry, Violence

Rating: ★★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads or buy the book at Bookshop.org

It's 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.

Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn't know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it's too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can't imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together.

Told through Nisha's letters to her mother, The Night Diary is a heartfelt story of one girl's search for home, for her own identity...and for a hopeful future.

 

The Night Diary is a journey.  Both literally and emotionally.  For such a small book, it carries a lot of weight.

First of all, Nisha.  Our narrator, Nisha, is kind and sweet and quiet and hopeful and a little bit sad, too. The Night Diary is told through a journal format and made up of diary entries that Nisha writes to her mother.  In these entries we see her fear, confusion, loneliness, joy, hope, excitement, regret… everything.  The Night Diary is so filled with emotions.  Nisha takes us along on her family’s pilgrimage as they migrate from newly created Pakistan to India.  This book is intended for middle grade readers (ages 8 – 12) but as an adult, I found it accessible and engrossing.  I’m also flabbergasted that this historical event was never touched upon in my education.  One of oh-so-many ways Americans ignore the plights of the rest of the world, and how history is very white-centric.

It is worth mentioning that there are a few scenes in this book that may be a little unsettling.  For one, there is a few moments of violence.  Nisha is physically threatened.  Their friend Kazi is injured early in the book.  Near the end, fighting breaks out between a group of Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindu men and people are killed.  Nisha watches all of this.  I know in many middle grade novels this sort of violence would be frowned upon, but you must understand it’s important to The Night Diary.  History is made of such unpleasantness, and to pretend otherwise is to belittle someone else’s pain in order to soothe our own discomfort.  I think that the violence is an important part of telling an authentic story (The Night Diary is loosely based on Hiranandani’s father’s own pilgrimage).  It would be up to parental discretion whether on not The Night Diary may be appropriate for their reader, but I personally think that this is the sort of book that ought to be taught in schools.  I can think of so many other tired books that are still taught, and few feel as worthy or as relevant as The Night Diary.

Aside from the violence, Nisha’s family experience dehydration and hunger.  They are threatened.  They are degraded.  The Night Diary is not a feel-good story.  As I said at the start of this review – it is a journey.  And a bit of a survival story, too.  But Nisha, Amil, her father and grandmother have to survive humanity as well as nature.

I would, without a doubt, recommend this novel.  I don’t feel like the heavier bits took anything away from the story – only added to it.  The Night Diary is vibrant with life and filled with tantalizing descriptions of food and complicated relationships.  I thought the ending was beautiful.  I wish more stores similar to this one real life had such hopeful endings.

Regardless of your age, if you haven’t read The Night Diary, it’s an absolute-must read.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★★★
Narrator: ★★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★★

5 Star Rating

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Do you pick up middle grade or children’s books if they have a good story?  I have absolutely no qualms about reaching for the most imaginative, most heartbreaking, and most magical stories regardless of their target audience.  Let me know your feeling on the topic in the comments!

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