The novel explores the burden that India places on teenage girls. This main theme develops throughout the novel, and accompanies the universal themes of loss, love, uncertainty, interdependence, and independence. Like girls in India, thirteen-year-old Koly must marry a man her parents choose. Her parents prepare Koly's dowry, and find a groom in the Mehta family. Once that is accomplished, Koly discovers that her husband-to-be is a sickly boy. His parents want her dowry for money to save their son's life.
The author examines the loss of loved ones through life-altering events. When Koly's new husband dies, Koly knows that, according to India culture, returning home as a widow would disgrace her family. Following custom, she stays with her in-laws. She starts like most people would after a crisis, taking tasks one day at a time. She endures the endless chores and unkind words from her mother-in-law, the novel's antagonist. Secretly, she grieves and desires the life she has not had a chance to live.
Several characters emerge to help Koly challenge the culture of India and weave a new future. Chandra, her sister in-law, becomes the sister Koly never had like countless teenage girls, they whisper complaints, share dreams, and spend evenings talking about life. This relationship gives Koly the support she needs to endure her mother-inlaw's harsh ways. When Chandra weds and leaves home, Koly's hope for a new future fades.
Unforeseen events place her alone among white sari-clad widows in the holy city of Vrindavan. Not willing to shed her name and join the masses of widows chanting in the temples and scrounging for food, Koly finds the courage to create an exceptional future. Her life slowly comes together, much like the embroidered quilts she loves to create.
(The entire section is 742 words.)