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Asha & the Spirit Bird

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Asha lives on the family farm with her mother in rural India.

Her father is away working in the city, and when the money he sends stops suddenly, a wicked aunt arrives. She’s determined to seize the property – and the treasure rumoured to be hidden on the land. Guided by a majestic bird which Asha believes to be the spirit of her grandmother, she and her best friend Jeevan embark on a journey to the city, across the Himalayas, to find her father and save her home …

288 pages, Paperback

First published February 7, 2019

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About the author

Jasbinder Bilan

9 books32 followers
According to family stories, Jasbinder was born in a stable in the foothills of the Himalayas. Until she was a year and a half, she lived on a farm inhabited by a grumpy camel and a monkey called Oma.

Jasbinder graduated from Bath Spa University where the seeds of her story were nurtured, but it was the incredible bond with her grandmother which was the inspiration for Asha & the Spirit Bird.

She lives with her husband, two teenage boys and dog Enzo in a man pad and splits her time between teaching and writing.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 135 reviews
Profile Image for Jade Ratley.
197 reviews3,002 followers
July 11, 2020
6.86 on CAWPILE, so a very high 3 stars!

This was a really cute read that definitely tugged in the heartstrings at moments! I thought this had a really strong atmosphere and a compelling plot, however I didn’t feel very attached to the characters unfortunately.

I would for sure recommend if you’re after a quick read with an adventure and a sense of magic in the form of ancestral reincarnation!
Profile Image for Athena (OneReadingNurse).
734 reviews106 followers
March 19, 2021
Asha and the Spirit Bird is a wonderful middle grade adventure story about a young girl on a journey to reunite her family.

I just thought this was a great story, focused on friendship, family, and Faith.  Little Asha is unshakeable in her beliefs and convictions.  It was touching watching her learn to trust herself, her friend Jeevan, and her spirit bird, as they journey across the Himalayasl together.

When debt collectors come crashing through their small Himalayan farmhouse, Asha knows her mama is in trouble. Her Papa left for the city months ago but stopped writing and sending money – where could he be? Is he alive?

With the help of her best friend, Jeevan, she runs away to find her father. Asha is a terrifically brave little girl, with the magic power to sense and be guided by her ancestors. I loved the Nanijee storyline, and how Asha learned to trust herself and her intuitions as well as embrace her family’s heritage.

There is plenty of danger and action in the plot too, from wolves to kidnappers.  I read the whole book in one sitting and think that kids will definitely enjoy this one from cover to cover.

The setting is well done too, with beautiful descriptions of the mountains, scenery, animals.  Weather and smells and sounds are also described.  I think my favorite parts were at the temple in the mountains, and how Asha’s little mango tree symbolized her faith and hope as well.

One HUGE thing that the book did well, and I think is absolutely essential in an ethnic book published in North America … is a glossary of foreign words and phrases. I hate feeling alienated when authors throw foreign terms and words in without translating.  Bilan not only translates but offers explanations, which is absolutely amazing and so much appreciated.

Overall: With clean content, no language and only one suggested hint as a possible future crush, this is a great story of friendship, faith, and family. Fully recommend for any young reader!
Profile Image for Lio.
224 reviews30 followers
April 30, 2019
4.5 stars! :')

This is a gorgeous little book set in the Himalayas. Asha's father works far away in the city to provide enough money for his family to live, but he hasn't sent them a letter or any money for several months now and they've been trying not to worry. With a moneylender threatening her mother and things getting desperate, Asha and her best friend Jeevan set off on an adventure under the wings of a beautiful bird (who's possibly the spirit of Asha's Nanijee) to go to the city and bring back her father in time to save the family home. It's an adventure full of wonder and hope, friendship and determination, spirituality, and just a little bit of magic.

I adored this book right from the start. It vividly introduces us to both the setting and the characters, and their difficult situation, making it easy to root for them from the very first page. Asha is an adventurous and headstrong kid, who loves her home and her family more than anything. She's determined to prove not only to herself but to her family that she can make this journey and bring her father home. That wonderful sense of self-belief and assurance that she's being watched over by her Naniji drives her throughout the story. Not conceited or egotistical, but a heartwarmingly healthy self-confidence that I feel is quite rare in protagonists, especially in children's books. Usually, the protagonist begins with low self-esteem and has to develop that self-confidence by the end of the book, but Asha's journey is more about her learning to trust and understand others, especially her friend Jeevan. Her faith and spirituality are very central to this story, too, which was lovely to read. When juxtaposed with Jeevan's more atheist/Science-as-explanation-for-everything views, they had a really fun dynamic that made each of their personalities shine through the pages. Jeevan could be quite mean and dismissive sometimes, and in comparison, Asha sometimes came across as rash and naive, but his character development led him to become a much more open and empathetic person and hers allowed her to learn to see from other people's perspectives and consider the impact of people's actions. I loved them both and how they learned to respect and trust each other despite their differences.

The plot was a pretty simple journey story, but the pacing kept the stakes high and the moments of wonder plenty enough to carry the story and the characters without ever losing my attention. Sensory detail makes this story a feast for the imagination. All the settings are enchantingly described, making it easy to picture and transport the reader to this beautiful landscape. One of my favourite scenes was the children's visit to a Hindu temple, which held so much importance to Asha on her journey and introduced me to some Hindu beliefs and pilgrim traditions. Asha's spirituality was an integral part of both her character and this story, and it was fantastic to see a religious character be so pragmatic and self-confident, without falling into tropes.

I really can't recommend this book enough - it has stayed with me since I finished it, and its uplifting ending and fiercely courageous protagonists' personal journeys are certainly the stuff for inspiring young minds and making them think beyond their own experiences. It's certainly a feast of opportunity for the classroom!
Profile Image for Lisa.
490 reviews54 followers
February 17, 2020
This is a middle grade fantasy, which I don’t read much these days, but I couldn’t resist picking this one up because of the lovely cover! Really this book is worth having just for the cover art alone, but it also has a great story to go with it, so yay! 🙂

Asha & The Spirit Bird follows Asha and her friend Javeen as they go on a journey to find Asha’s missing father. When her mother, forced to borrow money to save their family farm, can’t pay back the loans begins contemplating moving the family to England where her brother lives, leaving India, and Asha’s father, behind. This is devastating to Asha so she decides to take matters into her own hands and find her father. Though she encounters many obstacles, she’s helped along the way by her friend Javeen, some other friends she meets along the way, and a bird which she believes is the spirit of her grandmother.

In some ways this story put me in mind of A Little Princesss by Frances Hodgson Burnett (except withoutall the colonialism and racism). The missing father, children having to band together to take down the evil adults, the wonder of magic and Asha’s unwavering belief in it while others have to be brought around, all of these things felt familiar in the most delightful way. I love stories when ‘children know best’. That is, the adults in the story, and their failure to act, spurs the children into taking on things they normally wouldn’t because, well, they’re children. I know when I was a kid, I never felt like I was incapable of an anything, and I think that’s part of being a kid, thinking that you can do everything. So, I love stories like these because they show that, well, yes, you can do everything. But they also show kids the perils you encounter along the way. The path through life isn’t an easy one–sometimes you’ll have hardships and failures, but you have to keep trying.

The setting, in particular, is not something we see much of in fantasy, especially not children’s fantasy, and I really loved reading about it. I had a great time exploring this world with Asha, and learning more about her culture. You really get a sense of country life in a smaller village, especially when its contrasted against the parts that take place in the city later in the story. I also really loved Asha as a character, even when she was being too stubborn for her own good. It’s clear that her heart is in the right place, but she definitely needed some of the lessons she learns on this adventure. Asha and Javeen’s friendship was a real highlight of the story for me. They’ve been best friends for years, but they still go through some rocky times. I think at times Asha takes Javeen for granted, and this is one of the things she has to learn along the way–not to be so focused on herself and her own problems that she overlooks when a friend is in need.

Asha & The Spirit Bird was a delightful adventure, full of hope and wonder. Had a really fun time with this one. 4/5 stars.
Profile Image for Neha Thakkar .
421 reviews10 followers
May 5, 2021
Lovely story of believing and how our ancestors are always with us. As a person who was raised Hindu, I enjoyed the familiar ideas of karma and animals being family members. This one was a bit slow for me, but I think most kids would like the pacing. For me, there were 2 main things. One, there are something called bakul flowers, and my father’s childhood nickname was Bakul. I always thought it was like buckle, but now realize how sweet that nickname was, and wish I had asked my grandparents where it came from, as I have never heard any of our history being part of the Himalayas or mountain areas of India where bakul flowers grow. The second thing that stood out to me was how the story reminded me of the book, Holes by Louis Sachar. The circular story of a curse or blessing and the rituals that need to be completed to break the curse. And how both ended in abundance.
Profile Image for Ris Sasaki.
988 reviews166 followers
August 27, 2021
My main issue with this book was not even the writing itself (that I particularly didnt like), but the fact that like SO MANY other books that I've been reading lately, the author wanted to put so many things inside the story but didnt have the time to fully develop them.

And then the plot seems like time jumps. From this you go to there and oh let's add this and bang here we go to another scenery, another problem, another concern.

So, suffice to say, I didnt enjoy this.
This book had a lot of potential that, unfortunately, wasn't fulfilled.
Profile Image for Phoebe.
5 reviews
May 13, 2023
A sweet book with a great sense of togetherness and resilience. Pre reading to teach with my kids. Loved the cultural links alongside the moral messages!
Profile Image for Lauli.
351 reviews51 followers
April 16, 2022
La protagonista de la novela, Asha, vive en la India, en una aldea al pie de la cordillera del Himalaya. Su padre, que fue a trabajar a cientos de kilómetros a la ciudad, ha dejado de escribir y de mandar dinero, y su madre ha tenido que endeudarse para afrontar los gastos de la granja. Cuando los prestamistas de su madre irrumpen violentamente en su casa y se llevan todo lo que encuentran, amenazando con confiscar la casa si no cobran, Asha toma una decisión enorme para sus cortos once años: escapar de su aldea e ir a buscar a su padre para evitar el desastre, pasando primero por un templo en las cumbres de los Himalayas para encomendar su misión a los dioses. En el viaje irá acompañada de su mejor amigo Jeevan, y del espíritu de su abuela reencarnado en una lamagaia (un águila de montaña).

Bilan nos lleva a recorrer la India en todo el esplendor de su naturaleza y su espiritualidad, creando una historia mágica pero en base a las creencias hindúes como la reencarnación y los ancestros como espíritus protectores. Pero también nos muestra el lado oscuro de las ciudades indias: la explotación infantil, la precarización laboral y los peligros que acechan en cada esquina. No hay referencias a situaciones de abuso, pero sí a violentas redes de trata de trabajo infantil. Sin embargo la historia se concentra en las redes de solidaridad y el valor que permite a Asha y a Jeevan perseverar en su camino frente a las adversidades. Es una historia recomendable para trabajar en la escuela, quizás para chicos de 12 o 13 años, ya que permite acceder a una cultura y a subjetividades que vale la pena conocer.
Profile Image for Rosie.
247 reviews2 followers
June 2, 2020
Asha’s father had to go and work in the city to provide for his family. However, months with no contact meant that Asha’s mother had to borrow some money and the lenders are ready to take everything from Asha’s family. Asha and Jeevan set off on a journey to find out why letters from Asha’s father stopped.
This book explores a variety of themes, friendship, money, family, journeys, rights and religion. As the pair travel across hundreds of miles, Asha is followed by her nanijee’s spirit, a lamagaia (the spirit bird), who keeps Asha focused on the tasks ahead of her, including making sacrifices, treating Jevaan’s fever, surviving and escaping a work camp for street children, helping her father overcome amnesia and also travelling across the high Himalayas.
This book offers plenty of opportunities to explore the curriculum as there are links to religious education, PSHE and British values, geography, art, and science.
A lovely touch is that before the story has even begun there is a glossary of Hindi and punjabi words which enables the reader to learn more about a culture straight away and be able to understand this specialist vocabulary used throughout the text.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Reba GG.
59 reviews2 followers
March 5, 2022
A magic bird, girl born in a thunderstorm, and quest with a friend to save her family across N India. You will enjoy this weave of middle grade story and myth.

The best thing about this book is the Himalayan and Indian symbols and backdrop brought into the story. You use your senses throughout. I liked the main character Asha, her friend Jevan, and the clarity that drove her quest. Their trials are interesting metaphors testing their inner resolve, character, and friendships.

The girl’s grandmother in a magic form, guides her way.

I found the writing itself a bit rudimentary, sometimes the dialogue was not smooth. The writing was good, but not great. But…don’t give up on it. The story and it’s energy are definitely inspired. This story came from somewhere special, and the author conveys a genuine magic that needs to be read. I love this emerging space of middle grade cultural mythology adventures.

Unique and stays with you.
Profile Image for Alex Peachman.
98 reviews
April 13, 2020
This is a cracking, old fashioned, mystical adventure story set in the Himalayas.

When moneylenders threaten to repossess Asha's family farm she sets off to find her missing father with her best friend, Jeevan. The adventure takes her into forests, over mountains, to holy shrines and eventually to the city. They encounter tigers, near-death, and evil slave masters along the way.
The spirit bird of the title refers to the spirit of her Hindu ancestors who help her overcome many dangerous situations.

Like all adventures, it starts quite slowly, but the pace builds and ratchets up right to the very end. I liked how the relationship between Asha and Jeevan changes over the course of the journey and they both have to learn how to be more open-minded...

Fans of Katherine Rundell will love this book!
Profile Image for Lata.
3,773 reviews208 followers
April 14, 2022
I waited a long time to read this book, then was somewhat underwhelmed. It’s got great elements: a quest for a missing father, a staunch friend, numerous hurdles and dangers along the way, and a possible mystical connection with a now dead elder. However much I wanted to love this story of how Asha travels a long distance to find her missing father so he can pay off a greedy, evil moneylender who has threatened to take away the family farm if she’s not paid, I never, sadly, really got into this story.
Profile Image for Miranda Debenham.
111 reviews6 followers
September 1, 2020
This is an absolutely gorgeous little children's book. I love the adventure in this story. I love the animals. I love Asha. Buy this to read with any kid age 5-12.
Profile Image for Tara.
21 reviews
May 23, 2020
A book that is worth for the cover art alone. A beautiful story about a girl trying to discover herself in an adventure to find her missing father.
Profile Image for Rachael.
73 reviews
September 16, 2022
I couldn't put this book down - even for one second - and finished more than 3/4 of the book this morning! Anyways, I really admire Asha, the protagonist in this book - she is really cool, determined to find her Papa no matter what, and always looking out for her friend Jeevan. It's a really heart-breaking but epic adventure - how much she and Jeevan struggled to get her Papa back, and all the challenges and obstacles she faced (from Jeevan's fever, to the lady in the taxi that sold them [this shows that climbing into a random taxi with a stranger who tries to literally stuff your face with burfi is a definite no-no and a sign you should just open the door and run for your life], the dump and the eventual realisation that her Papa might never remember her ever again). I really hope the author makes a sequel to this book - it would be cool if there is a continuation (probably with Asha needing to visit different parts of India to find Jeevan or her Ma or something).

P.S. who knew that a thirteen-year-old with no driver's license drives almost like a pro?!?
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for ThatBookGal.
674 reviews88 followers
February 11, 2020
Asha & the Spirit Bird has plenty of magic, and the setting was breathtakingly beautiful. Not too mention how utterly stunning the cover is, and the chapter headings, props to whoever designed it. I felt the writing was a lacking at times, there are passages where a lot happens in just a few words, and I felt like the book could have done with maybe 50 more pages just to expand a little.

Profile Image for Lo Trask.
5 reviews2 followers
July 13, 2020
Asha and the Spirit Bird is the debut book of author Jasbinder Bilan, an OwnVoices Indian writer. The book was published in the Uk/Australia/New Zealand in 2019, but just had its North American release in June 2020. It is a lovely book with quite beautiful prose. It never gets too wordy, but has a great lyrical quality to it. Combined with a fast pace and strong sense of urgency woven into the narrative, the book manages to be both reflective and adventurous. Moments of sanctuary and spirituality are believably followed by the next harrowing experience the kids face.

The story really does get harrowing. Spoiler warning for this paragraph, but in the last third of the book Asha and Jeevan are kidnapped off a city street and sold into child slavery, living in a dump for several weeks until they are able to free themselves and all the other children. While the book has struggles and close calls before this event, I was surprised by the very dark, if not realistic, turn it took.

Thankfully, the core of the story is one of hope. That thread of hope was really woven through Asha’s magical abilities. The magic in this book is quite soft, with no explicitly spelled out powers, and is rooted in Bilan’s own culture and spirituality. While Asha is confident in her magic and the magic around her, it takes Jeevan and the other characters in the story much longer to share her belief. But as other’s belief in Asha grows, so grows the magic, until it culminates in a few very satisfying ways. Out of the traumatic events of the long journey comes a happy ending that ties up all loose ends in a way that is positively joyous. Perhaps the ending is a little too perfect, considering the dark realism of other parts of the book, but I’m a sucker for a happily ever after.

My quibbles with Asha and the Spirit Bird are very few. I found that the third act flew by a bit too fast, but the solidness of the ending mostly made up for that. Also, and this is completely personal preference, I had hoped that there would be no romance hinted at between Asha and Jeevan. Their friendship is amazing — loving, imperfect, and unbreakably strong. They had such a lovely friendship I hoped this story wouldn’t do the usual Middle Grade trope of pointing boy-girl friendship towards romance, but it did. Then again, a trope is a trope for a reason. A lot of 11-year-old boy-girl friends do start crushing on each other, and with a bond like Asha and Jeevan, I really can’t blame them.

This was a heartfelt and fast-paced read. I would recommend Asha and the Spirit Bird to anyone (a mature) 8+

eARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss+ in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect the contents of my review.

The review can be found on my blog Happy Ever Everyone: https://happyevereveryone.com/2020/07...
Profile Image for Lucy.
1,388 reviews29 followers
May 12, 2020
I picked this book up when I was on holiday and bought a physical copy, despite limited space in my suitcase. Yes, I had heard good things about this but this was almost completely a cover buy. It is so gorgeous.

This book is about Asha, who lives in India with her parents and her two younger brothers. Her father is in the city earning money but they haven’t heard from him in a while. When a moneylender comes around and threatens their home, Asha feels like she is the only one who can do something so she goes on a journey.

This is a book that is a classic quest book. Asha is a heroine who is confident in herself and her goal, though her strength in her faith wavers at time. She goes on a journey to find her father, help her family and save her home. There are many ups and downs on the journey and I did like how this was paced – I was quite happy to sit down and read this whole book. I read this in one sitting.

The magical realism in this book is delightful to read because there is the real sense that Asha’s faith in her grandmother watching over her is not only a comforting fiction for her, but an actual truth. It made the story far more interesting as we saw how Asha’s spirit bird helped her out at times.

I love the characters in this. Asha and her best friend, Jeevan, go on these adventures but Asha is the driving force behind the journey and the end goal. She is confident in what she is doing and she learns when to rely on other people (and spirits) and when to do things for herself. When she falters, Jeevan is there to help her refocus and she is there to give Jeevan new purpose when he falters as well. They make a good team and I found Jeevan a good side character, he was his own person but he never took over the main plot of the book.

I will say that this book is middle grade and you do see it quite a lot. The writing, plot points and character reactions can be overly simplistic at times, but I found it easier to read because of this and I am not the intended age range so I would not consider this something which affects the rating.

4.5 stars!
Profile Image for Justine Laismith.
Author 2 books17 followers
January 15, 2021
This middle-grade book is the winner of The Times 2017 Children's Fiction competition. It is about a girl on a journey to find her lost father.

Asha's father is away working. She has not heard from for months and decides to go on a journey to find him after speaking to a fortune teller. A bird appears periodically throughout her travels. Asha believes her grandmother has reincarnated into this bird and is guiding her on her perilous journey. Her journeys up the mountains remind me very much of Running on the Roof of the World, also another middle grade book about a journey across the Himalayas.

This books whisks you away to India. The author give a flavour of the place by peppering her flowery language with Hindi and Punjabi words. If you enjoyed the Newbury winner The Night Diary, you'll like this one too. What I also like about this book is the gentle way she introduces the ugly side of India by way of child labour, no too dissimilar to Boys Without Names. She also touches on the harsher facts of life where parents have to go away to work in order to support the family, very similar to Secrets of the Great Fire Tree.

If you've enjoyed any of the books I've listed in this review, you'll enjoy this one too.
Profile Image for James Horsley.
39 reviews
September 14, 2021
I will start by admitting that this isn't the type of novel I would normally read. This was read for work as part of a reading scheme with year 7 students.

The premise of this text is ok. It isn't anything groundbreaking but is a narrative arc we have seen in numerous texts and fairy tales. A young child has to go on a journey to save their parent and ultimately the family.

The setting of Moormanali with the journey to Zandapur has the potential to be interesting especially for Western readers and is clearly well-researched and takes knowledge from the writer's own life.

The issue I have with this text is that I never felt any sense of danger or jeapordy for Asha or Jeevan. When Asha leaves a wounded Jeevan in the woods as she goes to find help, it is no surprise that he is fine upon her return. He in inexplicably saved from wolves by a tiger... a strand that is not revisited throughout the rest of the novel. Even when Asha and Jeevan were abducted and taken to work as child slaves on a trash heap it was obvious they would escape quickly. I would also suggest that the episode in the trash heap was used to pad the story and make a nod to a societal issue in parts of Aisa. I feel however that if you are going to address this it should be a much greater focus or at least have some consequences for even a minor character.

Things just seemed to happen and appear when needed. As soon as Asha had a problem someone would appear and help her selflessly. Characters were used as convenient plot devices throughout.

The ending of the novel felt rushed with many of the narrative threads all grouped together and the discovery of the treasure which was mentioned at the start and seemingly forgotten about until the final pages very contrived.

An award winning book, I'm just unsure as to why.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Shelly Hammond.
1,736 reviews
November 21, 2022
This is a super cute children’s/middle grade story that takes you on a journey that ends the way it should.
Asha and her mother live on a family farm in rural India. The farm is set in the foothills of the Himalayas. For Asha life is just about as good as it gets but her father isn’t there with the rest of them. He is off working at a factory in the big city, far from the farm, where he has to go in order to make money. He sends them money every chance he gets.
One day, however, Asha comes home to find her mother being harassed by thugs, ruthless lenders, who she owes money to. Asha learns that it has been four months since her fathers last letter with money in it. Asha’s mother had to deal with the money lenders in order to keep the farm afloat. Now, the entire farm and everything Asha has come to know and love is threatened.
Asha is determined to save her home. She and her best friend decide to set out on a long and dangerous journey to find her father. They head out across the Himalayas and find themselves in all sorts of situations including natural disasters, law enforcement, and everything you find out in the wild. With the help of a very special bird and a green eyed tiger as her guides, she believes these to be the spirits of her ancestors, she and her friend are determined to see it through and save Asha’s family.
This is really cute with the type of ending that you would expect from a book for children in this age group. There are certain things the kids do along the way that are things you really don’t want your own children doing, even if it works out for them. Still, for the most part this is a fantastic story, well written, and one that should be read and enjoyed!
Profile Image for Nicole.
680 reviews20 followers
March 25, 2019
I very much enjoyed Asha's adventure through parts of India from her village farm in Moormanali. As she travels to Zandapur to a temple to light a deeva & pray as she searches for her missing father her trusty best friend Jeevan keeps her company.
A debt collector has turned up & broken things at their house. Her Papa has not sent wages in months & her mother has had to borrow.
Claiming they have until evening of Diwali to pay back the money.
A sighting of a turkey vulture, known as Lamagaia, takes on more meaning after Asha goes to the local palm reader, she sees this as a sign her ancestors are looking over her, that she must believe in herself & save her family home.
Asha asks her friend to help her stow away. Hoping he will come with her on a perilous journey at the foot of the Himalayas.
They argue & fall out, Jeevan gets ill, but plucky Asha seeks aid in the form of a young goat farmer who witnesses a tiger protecting Jeevan on their return.
The spirit bird is always there, giving a sense of protection and Asha feels they are on the right path. After they get to the temple it seems a simple matter of getting to her father's address.
But, alas the two friends are tricked & sent to work at a rubbish dump with many homeless children, can they escape, find her father & return to the farm before Diwali?
What a refreshing adventure set in the colourful setting of India, I swear I could smell the cinnamon & spices in the chai. A beautiful powerful Indian story of a girl who's ancestors have passed on a simple motto to believe in yourself. When you do, anything can happen.

Profile Image for Christina Reid.
1,212 reviews76 followers
April 16, 2019
As soon as I heard of this book I knew that I would have to read it - so many things about the summary just sound incredible!
I read the first chapter on the publisher's website and added myself to the waiting list at my local library. This morning I feel as if I have been transported away from a grey, rainy UK to an India bursting with colour, flavour and personality. The setting is almost like another character in this book, as Asha and Jeevan travel hundreds of miles to track down Asha's father and find out why the letters and money he was sending back home have stopped. Debt collectors have been threatening Asha's mother and the clock is ticking before they come back to take the house too...
At only eleven years old Asha is brave, responsible and her hope keeps her and Jeevan going, even when things look dark. Her determination buoys those around her and I found her personality endearing, even as the characters found themselves in situations that had me genuinely worried about their safety.
I loved Asha's belief that her grandmother's spirit is watching and protecting her in the form of a large bird, especially when she holds onto these beliefs when others ridicule them. I felt that this element of magical realism was really well done,, giving Asha hope but never conveniently getting rid of the obstacles in her way.
Overall, this was a vibrant story full of family and bravery, with en epic journey. I loved how fleshed-out every minor character they met along the way was and finished the book imagining how Asha and her family will continue to grow and thrive in the future.
Profile Image for Chris Vick.
Author 8 books40 followers
February 18, 2020
This is a cracking, modern, heart warming MG adventure, deserving of it Costa Children’s Book of the Year win, and all the accolades heaped upon it.

It’s a mix of legend and myth and a classic journey/odyssey framework, all set in contemporary India, lovingly and beautifully evoked.

All of this works together so well. A blend, yes, but like the ingredients in a good meal, all these elements come together to create something new; something which is more than, and separate to, the various parts.

Perhaps this is because Asha herself is so winning, young and naïve is some ways, but brave too. In short: believable in her quest to find her father. We are never anything but convinced by her. We are also never sure if her own bravery is going to get her and best friend Jeevan in trouble, or save the day, and this keeps you turning the pages.

It feels mythic, and references Hindu gods and beliefs, rooting the story firmly in its Indian setting and culture, but at the same time is so contemporary. In one particular section, the book does not shy away from describing the horrors of life for orphaned inner city dwelling children.

The evocation of India is superb. Jasbinder Bilan mined her own memories to create this story, and it shows. India lives and breathes in the pages, from the small village where the adventure begins, to the high mountains to a crowded city. There’s a deep authenticity in the writing.

But what really holds it all together is Asha. Plucky heroine, undaunted and with self belief, even when the odds are overwhelming and it would seem so sensible to turn back or simply give up. But where would be the adventure in that?
18 reviews1 follower
June 6, 2021
Winner of the Costa Children's Award 2019.

Asha lives on her family’s farm in rural India and her father works in the city to support the family. Suddenly, the money he sends suddenly stops arriving and a wicked aunt, who wishes to seize the property and the treasure rumoured to be hidden under it, arrives. Asha and her best friend Jeevan set out on an adventure, guided by a majestic bird believed to be the spirit of her grandmother, across the Himalayas, to the city to find her father and save her home.

The writing and description are authentic, Jasbinder Bilan creates a visual of India that is rich and vivid. The story has recognisable ideas from Hinduism, such as Karma and family being with you in forms of animals -potential for cross curricular links- and brings in language that enhances the Indian setting and culture (with a helpful bibliography!)

Asha as the heroine is undaunted in anything she faces, she in so convincing in her bravery that you cannot dislike her. Even when the situation is overwhelming and no one would begrudge her for turning back, she pushes forward with her adventure.

The story focuses on family, friendship, faith and having strength in your own convictions. Throughout the story, the readers watch Asha grow, not only in developing further belief and trust in herself, Jeevan and her spirit guide, but also her appetite for adventure and justice.
Profile Image for Katy Kelly.
2,130 reviews76 followers
April 29, 2020
Story of danger, loyalty and bravery.

3.5 stars.

This would still have worked for me, without the magical realism. I'm not a huge fan of spirits/ ghosts and their ilk, but it was interesting to see the context in which this would be accepted and a fairly common idea.

Asha lives near the Himalayas, her father works away in the city, sending money home. But when his letters and funds suddenly stop, her mother finds herself on the nasty end of a moneylender. Asha makes a decision with her best friend Jeevan - they will travel to her father and find out what has happened to him. But this means travelling over some very challenging terrain... and facing many dangers.

The 'spirit bird' of the title is that of her grandmother, Asha believes, watching out for her. Though I preferred the moving tale of the two friends and their 'fellowship'. They are 11-12 and with a maturity that sometimes stretches incredulity, but the exciting story gives readers all sorts of eye-opening adventures for them to share with the two children.

I wasn't enamoured of the narrator. I listened to this via Audible, and found her a little underwhelming/calm. The paper version might have suited me better and let me move at a faster pace.

A poignant adventure in an exciting setting, one for ages 8-12.

With thanks to Nudge Books for providing a sample Audible copy.
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