THE NIGHT DIARY Gives Voice to History

Lynn: Veera Hiranandani puts the well-loved structure of the fictional diary to exquisite use in her latest novel. InThe Night Diary (2018), 12-year-old Nisha receives a diary as a birthday gift from Kazi, the family servant who has raised and cared for Nisha and her twin brother after their mother died giving birth to them. Nisha decides to use the diary to tell her mother all the things she doesn’t say aloud, recording Kazi’s advice on the matter: “It was time to start writing things down and I was the one to do it. He said someone needs to make a record of the things that will happen and the grownups will be too busy.”

No wonder the grownups are busy: It’s 1947, a pivotal time in Indian history. The British have withdrawn from India and the Partition has begun, splitting India into two countries, one Hindu, one Muslim. Although her mother was Muslim, Nisha’s father is a respected, overworked Hindu doctor. As violence erupts across the land, Nishi’s father decides it is no longer safe to stay in what is now Pakistan, and so the family leaves their home, leaving Kazi behind, and begins their dangerous journey out. Hundreds of thousands of people died during this brutal and horrific period, a complicated series of events little-known to many American children. As seen through Nisha’s diary, these events become vital, heart-wrenching, and terrifying.

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Nisha’s voice, so innocent and sweetly authentic, is utterly compelling, a confiding mix of childhood worries and yearnings. Bewildered by the events around her and mystified by the behavior of the adults, Nisha’s journey changes, matures, and strengthens her. Hiranandani does an outstanding job of providing the complex history of this terrible time to a young audience in a way that is both appropriate and accurate, while also showing Nisha’s belief in the chance of a better future.

Cindy: Considered the largest migration in human history, the partitioning of India is a new topic for children’s historical fiction. Just as Ruta Sepetys shed light on Stalin’s reign of terror in Between Shades of Gray, Hiranandani has written an engaging book that deftly incorporates unfamiliar history into a story full of characters young readers will care about. As Nisha’s doctor father says, “when you separate people into groups, they start to believe that one group is better than another.” Nisha has seen her father’s medical books and thinks about how “we all have the same blood, and organs, and bones inside us, no matter what religion we’re supposed to be.” Indeed.

As I was reading this novel, my daily DelancyPlace email arrived with an excerpt from Indian Summer by Alex Von Tunzelmann to provide a little background on the August 1947 tragic events. An enlightening PW interview with Veera Hiranandani provides additional background on her process of writing this book. I will be adding this title to my middle school booktalks, and I’m sure it will be well-received. The novel would make a good lit circle discussion book, too, starting with the fabulous cover art. Foodies will also appreciate Nisha’s love of cooking and the descriptions of her favorite foods. I was hungry throughout the book, and not just during the family’s food- and water-deprived flight from their homeland! Libraries and classrooms serving tweens need this book.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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