Climbing the Stairs is largely a story of before and after. Set in British-occupied India during World War II, fifteen-year-old Vidya lives a privileged life for a girl in Bombay in that time period. While all of her Indian female contemporaries are getting married off, Vidya is dreaming of college with her parent's blessing. She is well loved by her family and is pretty well insulated from the political unrest of the time. Then all that changes when a tragedy strikes her family and causes them to leave the only home she has ever known to move in her very traditional grandfather's house in Madras.
Before: she had many freedoms and associations with many types of people and religions through her private school. She was highly regarded for her academic abilities. She also had a very close and loving relationship with her parents and brother Kitta that was free of many traditional Indian cultural norms. After: she is no longer allowed to stay in school and is viewed as merely a female - someone who considered a burden and is treated as a servant until she is married off. She is segregated to the women while the men live in the forbidden upstairs.
Vidya, however, gains access to the upstairs library and finds a friend in a young man in the house named Raman. Raman treats Vidya as an equal and encourages her curiosity for learning as well as her efforts to educate him. In this her dreams for college survive despite new complications caused by her brother's actions.
Overall, I really enjoyed this work of historical fiction and would recommend it to teens and adult readers.
Recommended by Cheryl Finnan