Monday, June 20, 2016

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate, 2007

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Kek comes from Africa. In America he sees snow for the first time, and feels its sting. He's never walked on ice, and he falls. He wonders if the people in this new place will be like the winter – cold and unkind.
In Africa, Kek lived with his mother, father, and brother. But only he and his mother have survived, and now she's missing. Kek is on his own. Slowly, he makes friends: a girl who is in foster care; an old woman who owns a rundown farm, and a cow whose name means "family" in Kek's native language. As Kek awaits word of his mother's fate, he weathers the tough Minnesota winter by finding warmth in his new friendships, strength in his memories, and belief in his new country.

(256 pages)

As a 21-century American kid, I am incredibly spoiled.

And I know that. I recognize it, and sometimes feel bad about it. I live in a wealthy country, in a (relatively) wealthy family, in a lifestyle that caters to my physical and emotional comfort. I get hung up sometimes on things like bad teachers or college decisions, and this book is a well-needed reminder to me that I really have nothing at all worth complaining about. I really am a "poor little rich girl."

Now that's off my chest, I suppose I should turn to the book itself. I haven't read many books told entirely through verse, but the poetic format really works here to get the story across in Kek's very distinctive voice. It's clear that he's really feeling the disconnect between his own lyrical language and the foreign and - to his ears - harsh sound of English. By turning the narration (which by necessity is written in English) into poetry, Applegate captures the rhythm and beauty of Kek's language. Or at least, I assume she does; I don't actually know anything about African languages.

I can't really critique the story itself, because it feels like it's real. I know that there really are people who are just like the various characters in the novel, and that makes it so much richer; Home of the Brave truly is as much a lesson in empathy as it is an entertaining read. I'm so very glad I did read Home of the Brave, and gained a sense of perspective on both my life and the life of African immigrants, and I look forward to reading it again in the future. I highly recommend you read it as well!

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