The degree of intrigue in the title of Jess Butterworth’s novel, Running on the Roof of the World,is no match for the tale she spins. Set in Tibet where Tash must follow rules of the Chinese soldiers, problems come out into the open when a man publicly sets himself on fire to protest the occupation.
Tash’s family has known peace by hiding their Buddhist religion and their trust in its leader, the Dalai Lama. The crackdown that follows brings soldiers to arrest her parents who have been secretly part of the underground. They get her out with secret papers to deliver and gets her neighbor to cut her hair so she can disguise herself as a boy. Her best friend Sam and two yaks join her for the trip across the roof of the world to find help from the Dalai Lama where he rules in exile from India.
With the current emphasis in the children’s book world of being true to cultural representations, I had to wonder how true the setting was so I looked Jess up. My first surprise was that she is female since I had been fooled by the name and the voice of the novel. Since the novel rings so true, I was not shocked to learn that her father’s family has lived in India for seven generations, and that she spent much of her childhood there. They lived in an exiled Tibetan community where her father was a trek leader.
This is labelled for middle school, but as I have said before, there is no reason to let them have all the fun. One word of warning, if you are looking for a book to help you doze off at night, you will be sorely disappointed. There is not one chapter that says, close the book and have a good night’s sleep.