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Climbing the Stairs

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  3,039 ratings  ·  576 reviews
A remarkable debut novel set in India that shows one girl's struggle for independence.

During World War II and the last days of British occupation in India, fifteen-year-old Vidya dreams of attending college. But when her forward-thinking father is beaten senseless by the British police, she is forced to live with her grandfather's large traditional family, where the women
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published May 1st 2008 by Putnam Juvenile (first published 2008)
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May 12, 2008 added it
Before I start this review, I do have to say that I have met the author, and like her very much, but have tried to make this review fair and unbiased. Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman is a YA historical fiction about a fifteen-year-old girl named Vidya that takes place in India during the struggle for Indian independence and WWII. Outspoken and willful Vidya is excited about her future, but when her father is injured in a freedom rally, Vidya’s hopes of entering college are shattered whe ...more
Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day)
"Amma," I said tentatively. "I don't want to get married."
"What, Vidya kanna?" Amma said anxiously.
"I mean, I don't want to get married until I finish school," I said nervously.
Amma's expression cleared a little. "Don't worry," she said. "I'm sure we can wait a little longer. After all, girls are getting married much later these days. Even seventeen is not considered too old anymore."

For me, the essence of Climbing the Stairs was conveyed so expressively in the above conversation. Vidya is a fif
May 09, 2009 rated it liked it
(Genre:Young Adult literature/historical fiction) This is an interesting novel about a 15 year old girl named Vidya living in World War ll India. She and her family are HIndu and belong to the Brahmin caste (scholars and others who sought for wisdom and learning rather than wealth and riches) which is one of the upper classes in the Indian caste system. When Vidya's father is injured, she and her family are relocated to her paternal uncle's house where life is much different for her than it was ...more
Jun 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
While this is a very ambitious book, tackling the British rule of India, Gandhiji's efforts to a non-violent revolution, the role of women in India during World War II, a young girl's sense of guilt over her father's life altering injury and her ambition which flies in the face of tradition and some family expectations. But the author pulls it off well, the heroine's voice is clear and genuine and at least this reader identified with her and cared about her. While some of the secondary character ...more
Oct 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Rep: Indian cast. Jewish side character.

A great story taking place in World War 2 that doesn’t center the U.S, England, or France, but India instead. The main character is a fifteen year old girl and her perspective is one I enjoyed to follow. There’s a lot she is going through in this story and I admired the strength she had throughout the book, just like I did with the other Venkatraman book I read. I loved the hopefulness this book gave off and I hope Padma Venkatraman will continue to write
Alex  Baugh
Jul 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-war-2
It is 1941 and 15 year old Vidya is a lucky girl. Though she was born into India’s upper Brahman caste, her parents are very liberal; she is able to attend a private girls’ school; and she can dream about the possibility of going to college, a rare privilege for Indian women, who are expected to marry relatively young. And she is exceedingly proud when she discovers that her father, a doctor, is using his medical skills helping the injured victims of Ghandi’s non-violent Freedom Fighters, as the ...more
Anne Osterlund
Aug 18, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Vidya is a fifteen-year-old girl living in Bombay, India during World War II. She loves climbing trees, spending time with her friend, Rifka, and her dog, Raja. And she has dreams of going to college. A dream her father promises to help make come true.

But her father is a member of Gandhi’s non-violent freedom fighter movement against the British. And when Vidya rushes out into the street in the midst of a protest, her entire world changes.

Into the strangling, tradition-bound realm of her grandfa
I absolutely loved this novel! I found the characters to be inspiring and entertaining! Vidya's story is touching and her struggles and triumphs are what makes the novel perfect for young adult readers. I love the genre of historical fiction so the book was a perfect fit for me. I found it very interesting to read about a completely new point of view during such a troubling time in the world's history.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in culturally diverse texts and historical fi
Jan 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is the story of a 15-year-old girl in British-occupied India during World War II and her struggle to be her own person and go to college instead of following the traditions of her strict culture. It is a good role model for girls today. There is outstanding imagery portrayed in descriptive language with good insight into Indian culture and religion. The realistic characterization uses opposites to portray the father/uncle and brother/sister. Prejudice is captured in the description of the N ...more
Emily Pier
Oct 06, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book did not really hold my interest. It was a good story, but there was not enough going on in it for me. However, I did like that the book offered me a perspective on the Indian culture that I had never considered before. It was interesting for me to read about the family dynamics and the way their social society is set up. The book did leave me with some questions. How Vidya and her family were treated after Appa's accident truly disturbed me. How could a family act like that? Is that a ...more
Samantha Kretschmer
May 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: teen-historical
The writing was often overly simplistic and abrupt for my tastes and some of the characters could have used a little deeper development but overall a book that I really enjoyed.

My absolute favorite part was the setting. There are countless books set during World War II and there are books set during India's revolution but I've never encountered one that captures both. Climbing the Stairs is set in India in the early 1940s which was a time of important cultural and political change. However it a
Jul 20, 2010 rated it liked it
3.5 stars.

I really had no expectations going into this book, honestly I didn't really think i was going to be all that thrilled with it.
But, as the book got started I realized it was a really good story.
Based in India during WWII, Vidya wants to become more than just another housewife. Her utmost desire is to go to college.
Sadly, I never have really thought about India during the war; It was such a confusing time for them. Seeing as they believe in non-violence, but yet they are a house divided
Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
I enjoyed this novel with the unusual setting of India during World War II. Teenager Vidya's life is turned upside down when her father suffers a brain injury and she and her family are forced to move in with her strict grandfather's clan. I was fascinated with the depiction of the difference between the life of women and the life of men in a traditional Brahmin household. Vidya's struggle to resist a pre-arranged marriage and go to college instead is uplifting. I was sorry to see the story end, ...more
Oct 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
The story of Vidya, a girl entering the turbulent times of adolescence during equally turbulent times in early 1940's India, is as intriguing to read as it is informational. Vidya's peaceful struggle for her freedom in a society that expects women to only marry, is nicely paralleled with the people of India's non-vilolent resistance against the British occupation that subjects the people of India. She is to women what Gandhi was for India. Courage and hope. ...more
Lauren Berry
Oct 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: educ318
I enjoyed learning about the difference in cultures between Vidya's and my own. The way the extended family treated her , Kitta, appa, and amma frustrated me. But overall I did like the book. ...more
Venkatraman, Padma. 2008. Climbing the Stairs.

Set in India during the early years of World War II, Climbing the Stairs is narrated by a charming young woman, 15, Vidya, who dreams of nothing more than going to college and continuing her education. She has an older brother, Kitta, a best friend, Rifka. When the novel begins, Vidya seems to have everything she wants within her grasp. Her parents have agreed that she won't be put on the marriage market quite yet unlike her cousin, Malati. And on a
Donald Tate
Oct 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I was very much entranced by Climbing the Stairs, so much so that I read it in one night! Having grown up in a more strict home environment than what my friends had as a child/teenager, I could very well relate to Vidya's struggle for her own independence and identity, although our circumstances were vastly different. The ending actually left me wishing that Venkatraman would write a sequel-would've loved to have read how Vidya/Raman's relationship progressed further, if she ever did take that t ...more
Jan 07, 2017 rated it did not like it
.5 Stars.
Really, yes, I disliked it that much. Note that I read this around a month ago, so I've cooled down A LOT

Maybe it was because we had to read it in-class for school, but more likely than not, it was the characters. There may be spoilers below~

All right, so CTS is a story about a 15-year-old girl who struggles against the stereotypes to try and attend college in a man's world while the move for Indian Independence is raging. Main characters are Vidya, her brother Kitta, her father "appa"
Oct 04, 2013 added it
This was an interesting novel set in India that displays one girls struggle for independence. It is set during World War II and the last days of British occupation in India. The main character is Vidya, she is a fifteen-year-old girl living in Bombay with dreams of attending college. He father was friends with Gandi and was apart of the freedom fighter movement. The peak of this novel is when Vidya rushes out into the street in the midst of a protest. She also struggles with acceptance of the tr ...more
Jul 19, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: fun-fiction-ya
Quick read (just the way I like them).
I have never read a book about India during World War II. I have always been fascinated by Indian cultures, beliefs, religions, etc. This is little gem of historical fiction. I enjoyed that the author told (in an Author's Note at the end of the book) which parts of the book were based on her own family history or actually events.

The main character, Vidya, was interesting. I grow tired of girls always running away rather than talking them out. That was one
Oct 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: miller-ya-group
The novel “Climbing the Stairs”, may not start out as an exciting story, but when you consider the period in time (WWII) and the country (India during the occupation of the British government), I was able to become interested in this young woman’s life and that of her family relation. Her father Appa was not the “traditional” Indian father figure at that time; meaning he was more understanding of how women and the non-Brahmim class were treated. He considers caste system as a “social evil”. I be ...more
Oct 07, 2013 rated it liked it
My first impression of Climbing the Stairs is that if you are not familiar with the Indian Culture you can get a little lost. The setting is very Indian oriented and I feel this novel connects with Realistic Fiction. However, as you read this novel it will have you wanting to read more. Vidya who was 15 years old was a very determine young lady caught my attention. Vidya worried so much because within the Indian culture women are too marry and not educate themselves. However, this was not what V ...more
Jan 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
'Climbing the Stairs" is a novel of a girl named Vidya who dreams of pursuing her education. She lives in a society in which that lofty goal is often only unattainable. This book takes place in India, during the Imperialistic British rule. It was a time in which Indians were treated as second class citizens in their own country. During an act of brutal violence, Vidya's life takes an unexpected turn in which she is left the choice of either following her family's dreams, or her own. The story ex ...more
Kerri De
Sep 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Initially I was not sure if I was going to be able to connect with this book due to the cultural differences. However, after reading the first 20 pages or so I began to better understand the characters and the dialog. I was able to make connections with several characters in the book, especially with Vidya. I found myself relating to her wishes to continue to study and attend college. Although I have never been told that I could not further my education I can understand her frustration if she wa ...more
May 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
4.5 Stars

Wow! Let me just say I have never been so angry and upset about the antagonists in a story before. Periappa, periammma, and the mean Aunt were so terrible! The teacher as well. I forgive the cousin though. Also, this is one of the most befitting titles of a book I have seen yet.

The British man was so kind, I almost couldn't believe it, in the context of the book. I loved that part and Thata as well.

I wish to have known more about Vidya's brother and Appa especially, as well as Raman. I
Nov 22, 2014 rated it liked it
This novel is an interesting look back into the society and culture of India during World War II as told from the perspective on an ambitious young woman. It is Vidya’s progressive personality which helps to make the novel more relatable than it otherwise would be. Think Lizzy Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, that novel continues to be the most well known of Austen’s work not only because of the romance but because Lizzy is a protagonist who transcends her time period. The two actually have a lot ...more
Apr 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
I have to say that this is my favorite way to learn history, through a novel, set in a foreign country during an era less known to me. Vidya is an Indian girl growing up in World War II India. This novel touches on the Hindu caste system, British rule of India, and Hitler’s army encroaching ever closer to her home. Talking through Vidya, the author gives us insight into the Hindu religion and way of life in 1942 India. Vidya is a dutiful and independent minded daughter of Brahmin parents. Her fa ...more
Aug 11, 2009 rated it liked it
Vidya is a bright ambitious girl who lives in Bombay with her family during WWII. After a tragic accident, her family has to move to another city and live with their extended family, whose way of life is much more restrictive than Vidya is used to.

I know very very little about India, so I found this book enjoyably informative. (History is so much easier to learn from novels than from textbooks.) I had heard of Gandhi of course, but I probably couldn't have told you that he was associated with fr
The premise of the book sounded very interesting and I did enjoy the description of India as a British colony during World War II. However, I found it difficult to really like the main character. She seemed at once both too modern (I kept forgetting that the setting was WWII and not the 21st century) and too shallow. She feels great guilt for what happened to her father but does little to alleviate this guilt. She feels bad for her mother but doesn't often try to comfort her. She believes in non ...more
Stacy Wines
Padma Venkatraman does an outstanding job showing how diverse populations share common experiences. Vidya, the 15 year old protagonist, loves her family, desires an education, and falls in love.

She lives with her parents and older brother in British-occupied Indian during World War II. Due to her father being severely injured, an act for which Vidya carries much guilt, the family is forced to move into her extended family household where men and women are separated and women do not receive an e
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American author, Padma Venkatraman, has worked as chief scientist on oceanographic ships and spent time under the sea, directed a school, and lived in 5 countries. Her 4 novels, THE BRIDGE HOME, A TIME TO DANCE, ISLAND’S END and CLIMBING THE STAIRS, were released to multiple starred reviews (2 altogether), and won numerous honors and awards (e.g. WNDB Walter Award 2020; SCBWI Golden Kite Award 202 ...more

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