Sunday, May 24, 2009

Home of the Brave

I brought my son to the Stowe Library before vacation so he could pick out some reading material. As he was looking through some books on drawing, I glanced through the young adult section. Since that is turning out to be the age group I most enjoy writing for, I read a lot of YA titles, and the library often gives a different selection than the local book store. When Carlos had finished choosing he came over to find me. There were some of the newer YA releases placed on easels on the top of the wooden cases and he reached up and pulled one down and handed it to me.

“Mom, this is great book. You have to read it.”

I glanced at the illustration of the young black boy in the cover’s bleak, snowy setting, his head leaning on a large-eyed gray cow and was intrigued. I opened it, flipped through its pages and gasped dramatically (as is usually my fashion…subtle I ain’t).

“Carlos! It’s written in verse! You know how I feel about poetry…”

“Mom, you won’t even notice it, I promise!”

Yes, we reverse roles sometimes and no, I’m not proud of my poetryphobia, but at least I listened to him and checked the book out.

I was very glad I did.

Katherine Appelgate’s touching novel, Home of the Brave is indeed written in poetic free verse, and as Carlos promised I did indeed forget that within the first few pages. It is the story of Kek, a refugee who has escaped the political unrest that plagued his native Sudan. He lost his father and his brother in the fighting and though he was separated from his mother, he has never lost hope that he will see her again. He is placed with his aunt and cousin in Minnesota (in the winter no less) and has to adapt to a different climate and culture as he mourns the loss of his immediate family and country. It is his happenchance encounter with a sad old cow—whose name just happens to translate to ‘family” in his language— that helps him deal with his intense feelings.

There is humor, such as when Kek, while trying to be helpful to his aunt, washes the dishes in the clothes washing machine. Sadness when he recounts the horror of the “night of men in the sky with guns/the night the earth opened up like a black pit/and swallowed my old life whole” (21). And touching when…well, I won’t give away the ending. It sounds cliché to say that I laughed and cried but…I laughed and cried.

More importantly, however, the book captures challenges that face all immigrant children who have to adjust their entire lives to a new home. Home of the Brave is ultimately a universal story, one that many will relate to. But as is their nature, children usually adapt better than adults. This is true for Kek who brings his open heart to this new, cold place and ultimately bonds with Lou, the old woman who owns the farm and the cow who provides the comfort and brings a piece of Kek’s home.

After I finished reading it, I grasped the book to my chest and had to admit to my son he was right. The only thing that reminded me it was poetry was the incredibly beautiful and evocative language, as I got lost in Kek’s story so easily. I’m glad I have my son and characters such as Kek who can teach me about poetry and maintaining open hearts, who teach me that even if you’re afraid there is always something to learn, beauty to be had.


msedano said...

When I consider how my library expands,
desiring this woman's work, and that man's oeuvre,
thinking of all the books that stand and wait
discovery, how glad I am to find yet another
that I must buy ere long.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Ann--the real, the kids, the you.
Except you forgot to give us a taste of the verse!
Next time,

Wendie O said...

Ann, Great post, as usual.
(and how about that new Supreme Court nominee?)