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Monday, December 29, 2008

Poetic Home of the Brave Will Make You Cheer

You may have noticed that I don't read a lot of poetry. Scratch that. I don't read poetry. At all. Correction - there are poems I enjoy, but most of them are straight forward and rhyming, a la Henry W. Longfellow. As for vague, abstract, brain-taxing verse, count me out. So, when I first picked up Home of the Brave, a YA novel by Katherine Applegate, I almost put it right back down. After all, it's written in stanzas, so it greatly resembles a poem. A few pages into the book, however, I was hooked. That's about when I realized the story offered all the things I like about poetry - impactful imagery; lyrical writing; and engaging subject matter - without being abstract or difficult to understand. If it is poetry, it reads like a novel - the words are just prettier.

Applegate's lovely words can't erase the horrors that have befallen Kek in his native Sudan. Before boarding the "flying boat" to America, he lost his father and brother to bloodthirsty soldiers. He survived because his mother screamed at him to run. Because he was so frightened, he clutched her dress - now all he has left of her is a piece of blue and yellow fabric. Kek knows the odds are against it, but he's certain his mother will come for him.

In Minnesota, Kek is overwhelmed by strange and baffling sights. With the help of his new friend Hannah, he discovers the wonders of washing machines, chocolate milk, and the grocery store with its "answers to prayers on every shelf" (156). Still, Kek gravitates to the one thing that is familiar - a cow he spies at a ramshackle farm. He has always had a way with cattle - his father owned many in Sudan - and the animal is the one thing he understands in his confusing new life. Kek uses his own ingenuity to make his way in his world, but he's still haunted by the loss of his family. Although his friend Dave is checking for his mother in refugee camps, he cannot find her. Kek knows he has to be brave, but sorrow weighs him down. Without taking part in his tribe's ceremony, he doesn't know if he can find the strength to be a man.

Although the story sounds depressing, Kek is nothing if not hopeful. He's a sympathetic and engaging narrator, whose determination and ingenuity make him an interesting and inspiring character. His wide-eyed wonder will make readers smile, his misadventures will make them laugh, and his undying hope will make them root for brave young Kek. The immigrant experience has been addressed many times before, but Home of the Brave seems fresh somehow. Whether or not it adds anything new to this crowded genre, it's a quick, touching story that will leave you cheering for a brave young boy named Kek and a tired old cow called Gol.

Grade: A

(Book Image from Barnes & Noble)

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a very great read. I have a book in my tbr pile written in verse and I had the same hesitations, but I skimmed over the first few chapters, and they didn't seem too bad. Glad your experience was similar!

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