The Orphan Keeper by Camron Wright
Based on a true story, this is a gripping story of struggle, longing and a boy’s ardent desire to find his way home, reconnect with his biological family in India and discover his identity in the process.
Chellamuthu, a disobedient boy of seven living with his family in Southern India, appears destined for a life of want and deprivation-until he is snatched from the street and sold to the Lincoln Home for Homeless Children. For Eli, the man running the orphanage, it doesn’t matter that the boy isn’t an orphan, or that Chellamuthu’s mother won’t give up searching for her son. He truly believes he is doing God’s will.
After spending a few months in the orphanage, Chellamuthu is eventually adopted by an American family. It doesn’t take long for his new mother to realize that she didn’t adopt an orphan. But despite her best efforts, she is unable to reunite her new son with his original family and vows to love him as her own.
Chellamuthu eventually sheds his Indian heritage and receives a new name: Taj Khyber Rowland. He learns to speak English and is assimilated into a new culture. By the time he reaches high school, he’s dating pretty girls and is student body president. He doesn’t identify himself as Indian at all.
That changes when he travels to London for a study-abroad program. There, he is placed with an Indian family who helps him rediscover his roots and reconnect with a culture he has deliberately forgotten. Taj is determined to return to India to discover the truth of his past.
While preparing for the expensive trip, Taj falls in love with Priya, an Indian girl from a traditional Indian family. Her family believes in arranged marriage, and because no one knows Taj’s caste, Priya’s father forbids Taj from seeing his daughter. Taj and Priya date and fall in love in secret; eventually they marry.
Once in India, Taj struggles to find his home and his family. All he has to go on is a rough map drawn from memory, an old letter from the orphanage, and the name of the man who once ran the orphanage. Eli has long since died, but to Taj’s surprise, he knows Eli’s partner-he is Priya’s father.
After an exhausting search, Taj is eventually reunited with his Indian family. A few years later, he arranges a meeting between his Indian mother and American mother, and he is able to find the peace he had longed for.
As the two rested, neither spoke—at least not in words. Harisha’s glare poked at Chellamuthu’s skinny, breathless body, forcing him to turn away. The older boy had just saved his life, but instead of gloating in glory, his stare was cold and demanding. His lips didn’t move, so he must not have actually spoken. But to Chellamuthu, Harisha’s message was abundantly clear: time to pay up.
The boys who’d been hollering from atop the cliff now circled, bunching around their illustrious leader like zealous soldiers awaiting orders. Even the river seemed to turn its inquiring head to listen.
“Dry off,” Harisha finally said, tapping Chellamuthu on the shoulder with his gaze. “We’re gonna go to the park now, so you can steal us all some rupees.”