Review: The Blue Notebook by James Levine

51rkxj2gqbl_sl500_aa240_Is it wrong to say I loved a book about child prostitution?  Maybe so, but it’s true.  The Blue Notebook by James Levine is one of the most moving books I’ve ever read.  

The story is about Batuk, a beautiful and imaginative young girl from rural India.  Having learned to read during a lengthy hospital stay for TB, she takes solace from her miserable home life in books.  Betrayed by her own father, she is sold into the sex slave trade in Mumbai at the age of 9, brutally raped and forcibly introduced to the ways of the street.  Stunned and disoriented, survival becomes little Batuk’s main priority. 

As a prostitute, she weaves fantastical tales in her blue notebook as a way to remove herself mentally from the filth and scum of the Common Street, a place in Mumbai where she is locked in a “nest” and “makes sweet-cake” with 10 or more men a day.  All of her earnings go to pay off her purchase price; she gets nothing.  Hungry, filthy, lonely- her pencil and notebook come to mean everything to her.  Sold yet again to a wealthy man and taken to a luxurious hotel to show the man’s effeminate and vile son “how to be a husband”, she is abused, attacked, and treated like human garbage.  She hangs onto her notebook and continues to write, hiding her scribblings behind the pipes under the bathroom sink. 

The subject matter is difficult, but Batuk is an unforgettable character.  Through the gift of literacy she manages to rise above her circumstances and hold onto hope for the future.  Her imagination sets her free even as she is exploited, beaten, sold, belittled and raped. 

The atrocities of Batuk’s existence sickened me.  After reading The Blue Notebook, I did some internet searches to find out how many children are in similar circumstances in India.  The numbers are staggering and the reasons are complicated, but poverty, illiteracy, hunger, and overpopulation play an enormous role.  

James Levine is a brilliant writer.  He is a British doctor at the Mayo Clinic who, as part of his research for the Mayo Clinic, interviewed homeless kids on a famous street of prostitution in Mumbai known as The Street of Cages.  He noticed a girl writing in a notebook outside of her cage and he interviewed her at length.  That powerful image haunted him and launched his career as an author.  I hope this book will shine a bright light into this dark global issue.  

All of the US proceeds from The Blue Notebook will be donated to the International and National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children.  It will be released in July 2009.  I recommend you buy a copy to help this organization and to honor a child you love (you can pre-order before the release).

Thank you to Rochelle Clark at Random House for sending me this extraordinary novel.


36 Responses

  1. It’s sounds pretty dark…but I’m in love with the cover!

  2. Wow! What a powerful review. I will totally buy a copy of THE BLUE NOTEBOOK this July. Lately, for some reason I have been drawn to dark and heavy books that bring awareness to my small world.

  3. I’m hoping to get a copy of this book to review – it sounds so very interesting.

  4. I keep seeing this book pop up every where. I’m dying to get a hold of it. And the cover is beuatiful. Thanks for the review.

  5. I’d like to read the book, but that video made me feel sick to my stomach. Sometimes we forget just how lucky we are.

  6. I received a review copy of this book last week, and the subject matter completely threw me off. After reading the back of the book, I opened it to a random page and was immediately thrown into the middle of a rape.

    I think I’d like to read this one day, but I’m not sure I can take the heavy subject right now. I’m still working my way through “2666” which is brutal enough. Great review! = )

  7. This sounds like it might be right up my alley. Thanks for the great review, Lisa! As I was reading it, I was contemplating requesting a review copy, but I think I’ll hold off until July so I can purchase it and know my money is going to benefit a great cause.

  8. What a great review!

  9. if your review has not provided incentive enough to read this book…I think the proceeds being sent off to a charity is a fantastic idea that should prompt more people to by the book…thanks for an excellent review.

  10. If you haven’t already read it may I suggest Sold by Patrica McCormick? Deals with a lot of the same issues but written for the YA niche. This sounds like an incredible book and I WILL order my own copy seeings how the profits go to a worthy cause. Excellent, excellent review!!

  11. I love the cover on this book and it’s definitely one I’d like to read one of these days.

  12. O wow. Great review! I saw this as a giveaway on LibraryThing and didn’t think I’d be interested. But now that I read your review I want to read it. Thanks!

  13. Wow! Sounds like a powerful story. I’ll be sure to buy my copy in July. Thanks for bringing this exploitation to our atttention.

  14. I have The Blue Notebook on my list too.

  15. I’m dying to read this ever since seeing it in the LibraryThing Early Reviewers bonus batch this month. I’m pretty sure I’ll need to buy it if I don’t get it some other way soon.

  16. Very thoughtful review. I have this on my TBR list but I have to tell ya, that video made me ill and I do not have a weak stomach! Those poor girls! This is even more of a reason to buy the book.

    I hope all of the men that partake in those relations burn in hell, shriveled up penis and all.

  17. […] it! Ti on Review: The Blue Notebook by …Devourer of Books on Review: The Blue Notebook by …Ladytink_534 on Review: The Mighty Queens […]

  18. I retweeted. Reallyreally want to read! 🙂

  19. […] House and Books on the Brain are teaming up to give away two copies of The Blue Notebook (reviewed HERE), which I absolutely loved! All you need to do is Follow Me on Twitter (click on the […]

  20. […] House and Books on the Brain are teaming up to give away two copies of The Blue Notebook (reviewed HERE), which I absolutely loved!  All you need to do is Follow Me on Twitter (click on […]

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  22. After reading your review I’m thrilled that I’ve got this book waiting for me to read!

  23. […] fret if you entered and didn’t win.. I’m giving away a 2nd copy of The Blue Notebook.  Leave a comment HERE by Friday, April 3rd for a chance to […]

  24. […] fret if you entered and didn’t win.. I’m giving away a 2nd copy of The Blue Notebook. Leave a comment HERE by Friday, April 3rd for a chance to […]

  25. Enter me for the book giveaway. The book sounds very enlightening. I guess I better learn to “twitter”.

  26. This book sounds disturbing, but powerful. I have been wanting to read this since I first heard about it. Thanks for the great review.

  27. Great review, Lisa! I am looking forward to reading this one. Slumdog Millionaire (in particular the book, formerly called Q&A) touches on prostitution in India a bit.

  28. What a wonderful review! I am really looking forward to reading this. I signed up for a chance at a copy on Library Thing. (fingers crossed)

  29. “one of the most moving books I’ve ever read.”


    I was also sent this one and think it looks like an amazing story. I’m looking forward to it even more now.

  30. So sad… and so compelling. Great review. If my lil’ heart can take it, I’ll be on the look out for this one!

  31. […] The Blue Notebook – James A. Levine (via Books on the Brain) […]

  32. I received this one a few weeks ago, and it sounds good. Glad to hear you liked it. I can’t wait to read it myself.


  33. […] Tsunami | The Book Lady’s Blog | Rhapsody in Books | Literate Housewife | Books on the Brain | The Magic Lasso | A Writer’s Pen […]

  34. […] Other reviews: Maw Books Blog Sara at the Book Nook Club A High and Hidden Place The Literate Housewife The Book Lady’s Blog Books on the Brain […]

  35. After reading “The Blue Notebook”, I immediately got depression. But it’s a great and powerful book! And definitely not for a faint hearted person.

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