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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

HOME of the BRAVE, written by Katherine Applegate. Feiwel and Friends, 2007. $18.95 ages 12 and up

"I don't want to cry.
A man must show strength
in the presence of a woman.
But if I had to choose
between kissing a crocodile
and telling my aunt
the news of her broken dishes,
I would choose the crocodile
any day."

I had read this book first before I ever considered blogging about the books I was reading. I loved it then, I love it now. I so admire the language of this novel, Katherine Applegate's first after penning series such as The Animorphs. In this novel in verse about a Sudanese refugee who comes to America to find a better life with his aunt and his cousin, she gives us an honorable and unique boy. He has much to learn about his new home, and much to forget from his past. His father and brother were killed in the war that has paralyzed his country. His mother and Kek escaped to a refugee camp; his mother lost to him when the army came to the camp and displaced many people once again.

Now, Kek has made the trek to America to try to find a life with relatives. Everything is new and easily misunderstood by a boy who has no experience with the language, the land, the people. Nothing is familiar, and he struggles daily.

He talks about his new class and his classmates:

"In my class,
my long-name class
called English-as-a-Second Language,
we are sixteen.
Sixteen people
with twelve ways of talking.
When we talk at once
we sound like the music class
I can hear down the hall,
hoots and squeaks and thuds,
but no songs you can sing."

His cousin Ganwar is angry with the many new experiences they must endure. Ganwar lost a hand in the fighting and has little interest in making a new life for himself in America, despite his mother's encouragement and the assistance of a refugee center worker. He would rather hang with his friends than work, getting into trouble and causing his mother heartache.

Kek is an optimist, looking for the best in everything while longing to see his mother again. He makes the best of his situation. Upon arriving in America he is in the car with the worker when they pass a small farm, and a cow. Kek comes from a family of herders and here he finds familiar territory. He begs Dave to stop so he can visit with it and he makes his feelings clear to the reader:

"You can have your dogs and cats,
your gerbils and hamsters
and sleek sparkling fish.
But you will have lived
just half a life
if you never love a cow."

His interest leads to meeting Lou, the old woman who owns the land and the cow, and who is trying to keep it going on her own. A friendship with Lou is forged, a plan made to be of assistance with the farm and a meeting with Hannah all give new meaning to Kek's life. It is not easy to move forward, but Kek seems determined to make the best of things, despite much initial misunderstanding. Imagine his surprise, when on a school field trip, he notices the many others who are visiting the zoo that day:

"Of all the things I didn't know
about America,
this is the most amazing:
I didn't know
there would be so many tribes
from all over the world.
How could I have imagined
the way they walk through the world
side by side
without fear,
all free to gaze at the same sky
with the same hopes?"

When Carol Jago talks about books as either 'mirror' or 'window' books, I'm sure she had a book like this one in mind. It gives us a window to Kek's world, to his thoughts, to his struggles, to his misunderstandings and his growing knowledge of this new life he will lead.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for reviewing Home of the Brave. I'd not heard of this novel-in-verse and I'm looking forward to reading it.