Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth (Middle Grade)

Note: I received an uncorrected proof copy for review purposes from the publisher, Orion Children’s Books, in exchange for an honest review.

 

Join 12-year-old Tash and her best friend Sam in a story of adventure, survival and hope, set in the vivid Himalayan landscape of Tibet and India. Filled with friendship, love and courage, this young girl’s thrilling journey to save her parents is an ideal read for children aged 9-12.

There are two words that are banned in Tibet. Two words that can get you locked in prison without a second thought. I watch the soldiers tramping away and call the words after them. ‘Dalai Lama.’

Tash has to follow many rules to survive in Tibet, a country occupied by Chinese soldiers. But when a man sets himself on fire in protest and soldiers seize Tash’s parents, she and her best friend Sam must break the rules. They are determined to escape Tibet – and seek the help of the Dalai Lama himself in India.

And so, with a backpack of Tash’s father’s mysterious papers and two trusty yaks by their side, their extraordinary journey across the mountains begins.

 

This is a fictional story based on a very real issue – that of the ongoing situation for all inhabitants of Tibet. In this story, we see the imagined impact that it has on children.

The central themes of the story ring true throughout the narrative: that of hope and perseverance. Tash, the main character, is determined to reach the other side of the mountains and complete her journey, even if she doesn’t fully understand what is happening in her village and in her country of Tibet.

The setting of the majority of the story, the Himalayas, is another main character here. As daunting as the journey through the mountains and towards the relative safety of northern India is, the setting is still painted as breathtaking and beautiful by debut author Jess Butterworth. It’s unforgiving, yes, and Tash along with her best friend Sam and their yaks have various difficulties to contend with along the way. The landscape is still seen in a reverential way, a way that inspires awe in these young minds.

Despite the serious subject matter at hand, Jess Butterworth writes with a great sense of adventure from the point of view of Tash. She is optimistic in her outlook and even though adult responsibilities fall to her, Tash is a real child at heart with a whimsical and naive quality that endears her to the reader. She is a character of hope and the reader gets the sense throughout, whether right or wrong, that everything will be alright in the end for Tash and Sam.

There is a real sense of danger however with treacherous climbs and potentially dangerous nomads among the obstacles between Tash, Sam and their destination. This is not to mention the overarching threat of being caught by Chinese guards and being sent right back to where they came from.

The attitude and outlook of the Tibetan people is reflected in many of the characters in the book and it’s refreshing to read. Even though these characters endure hardship and persecution, there is always hope and a lot of love. Despite there being a clear “villain” in the shape of Chinese soldiers, there is rarely if ever a feeling of ill-will towards them from Tash or her neighbours.

It’s a great message running through the book and a positive one for any child to read.

A note on the cover design and artwork inside the book. Absolutely stunning and some of the best work I’ve seen this year. Well done to all at Hachette for the effort.

Beautifully written and an accomplished debut.

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