In the 19th century, the English found our hill stations—from Shimla to Darjeeling—as attractive sites for the education of children of poorer parents, unable to send them to boarding schools in England. A 100 years down the road, I too wore a green blazer with ‘Excelsior’ emblazoned across it. I was one of the many who played cricket on the pitch, and shared in the governance through the prefect system. “Spare the rod and spoil the child!” Mr O B Craven, our Headmaster, loved to remind us, flexing a Malacca cane. ‘Never spare a bender, especially when it’s tender!’ rejoiced the school captain. He was tasked with enforcing discipline.
Master story-teller Stephen Alter takes his young readers to such a world in this scintillating tale. You are on the trail of Kip, who has been sent off to a boarding school in the mountains following a family crisis. Lost and alone, he feels abandoned in the strange, unwelcoming halls where nothing seems to have changed for the last 100 years.
The curriculum is completely different with puzzling subjects like ‘Toxicology’ similar to Chemistry, but you were taught about poisons—how to make them, how to disguise them and how to administer their antidotes.
‘Provenance’ was a kind of history class in which you learnt about countries that no longer existed. Though the principal, Captain Lovelock, and his staff insist on ‘truth’ and ‘excellence’, the students are treated like prisoners and must fall in line with unjust rules and harsh discipline.
On his first day at school, Kip makes friends with a boy named Scruggs ad two girls, Juniper and Meghna. Quickly, he learns that they are different from the other students. After sharing their secret with Kip, they ask him to help them escape, along with another boy named Ameel.
Running away from school is never easy but here in the mountains, with steep cliffs on all sides, high fences and guarded gates, the only escape route leads over the clouds. As they begin their sky journey, Kip learns more about the Cloudfarers, a lost tribe of people from another planet who have been exiled on earth.
Travelling in search of a hidden valley, high in the snow-covered mountains, Kip and his friends cross perilous cliffs, avoiding fierce thunderstorms and dangerous creatures, along with the school authorities who try to catch up with them, in order to recapture them. After several days of wandering, they finally come upon footprints in the clouds that lead toward an unknown destination.
Read on. This one comes highly recommended.