Tamarind & the Star of Ishta

Tamarind & the Star of Ishta

By Author / Illustrator

Jasbinder Bilan


Family & Home

Age range(s)



Chicken House Ltd




Paperback / softback




Tamarind never knew her Indian mum, Chinty, who died soon after she was born. So when she arrives at her ancestral home, a huge mansion in the Himalayas surrounded by luxuriant gardens, she's full of questions for her extended family. But instead of answers, she finds an ominous silence - and a trickle of intriguing clues: an abandoned hut, a friendly monkey, a glowing star ring, and a strange girl in the garden who calls herself Ishta. Slowly, Tamarind unravels a mystery at the heart of who she is ...



Searching for memories or details about a mother who died at birth or disappeared is a staple of children's books nowadays, something which must give nervous children a moment of qualm. However, this book has the exotic background of the Himalayas where Tamarind is taken by her father and his new wife, from their home in England, to stay with her mother's sister and her family whom she has never met.

Her father will not talk about her mother, nor will the family with whom she has come to stay in their enchanting house high in the mountains. But Tamarind is sure that she must find out what the mystery is and why no-one wants to talk. One night Tamarind steals out and finds Ishta, who helps her find the answer to the mystery and all is revealed and wounds are healed.

The exotic background and the details of life in an Indian household make Tamarind & the Star of Ishta a fascinating book to read and Tamarind is an engaging character with the family dynamics well drawn. It is a deceptively slight read but is actually more complex than it looks. The cruelty, for it is that to deny a girl the story of her mother, does come through and it will seem difficult to understand. The significance of Ishta is revealed at the right moment. The beautiful garden with its tropical flowers, and the appearance of Hanu in the household, make for a satisfying if slightly contrived ending with everyone happy together.

A map of India would have been useful for readers like me who have not visited the sub-continent. Helen Crawford-White has designed a beautiful and arresting cover, and also decorated the pages within the book. Jasbinder Bilan is yet another product of the Bath Spa University MA in Writing for Young People, who are producing so many talented writers, and also a winner of the Costa Children's Book award.

224 pages / Reviewed by Janet Fisher, librarian

Suggested Reading Age 9+


Tamarind is going to spend time in India with her mother's family at their huge mansion in the Himalayas. She never knew her mother who died when Tamarind was a baby and although she has many questions, she is nervous about meeting her extended family. But no one seems keen to give her answers and as Tamarind explores, she uncovers yet more mysteries- a sing-song voice, soft as a whisper; an overgrown summer house which is forbidden; a beautiful ring hidden in a small blue box and a strange girl with a golden monkey.

Rich language evokes the sights and sounds of the Himalayas in this wonderful story about family and belonging. Tamarind, a football fanatic from Bristol, finds everything strange and is puzzled by the palpable tension between her father and her mother's family. Her sense of confusion and loss are sensitively portrayed as she tries to make sense of relationships and differences in culture whilst piecing together the past.

There is a magical element running through Tamarind and the Star of Ishta, blending reality and fantasy, as Tamarind discovers more about her mother. The story comes to a satisfying conclusion which I have no wish to spoil for anyone else and a note from Jasbinder Bilan at the end of the book offers a personal insight into the inspiration behind the story. The whole thing is a delight from start to finish and would make an excellent text for using with a class.

As delightful as Asha and the Spirit Bird, Tamarind and the Star of Ishta is another wonderful story from the talented Jasbinder Bilan.

224 pages / Reviewed by Susan Wilsher, teacher

Suggested Reading Age 9+


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