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Smart and independent, 11-year-old Khyber lives with her mom, Tammy, a former stripper, and her autistic twin brothers in a poor Toronto neighborhood. Though she doesn’t have a lot in common with her classmates, Khyber does have wonderfully eccentric friends: Valerie, Toronto’s meanest waitress, and X, a homeless woman in hiding from the secret police.” Despite having to deal with pompous social workers who make her mother cry and ignorant kids who make remarks about her brothers, Khyber manages to enjoy herself, poring over atlases, planning exotic journeys, and taking peanut butter sandwiches to X. But when Tammy decides to move her sons to a group home for proper care, Khyber’s world starts to crumble. She fights with her mom and then gets expelled from school. To make matters worse, X suddenly disappears. Khyber sets out to find her in a wild all-night odyssey of self-discovery.
Even though Valli spends her days picking coal and fighting with her cousins, life in the coal town of Jharia, India, is the only life she knows. The only sight that fills her with terror is the monsters who live on the other side of the train tracks—the lepers. When Valli discovers that that her “aunt” is a stranger who was paid money to take Valli off her own family’s hands, she leaves Jharia and begins a series of adventures that takes her to Kolkata, the city of the gods. Valli finds that she really doesn’t need much to live and is very resourceful. But a chance encounter with a doctor reveals that she has leprosy. Unable to bear the thought that she is one of the monsters she has always feared, Valli rejects help and begins an uncertain life on the street.