Sunday, December 9, 2007

Book Review: Home of the Brave

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. (Grades 4-7+)

Ten-year-old Kek is a refugee from Africa and he's coming to America to live with his aunt and cousin... in Minnesota. Talk about culture shock. Kek's got a lot of stuff stacked against him. He doesn't know much English, his aunt works almost constantly to pay the bills, and worst of all, his mother is still in Africa... and no one can find her. Still, Kek "finds sun when the sky is dark" and he's determined not to lose hope. He befriends a local cow and makes a human friend in his apartment building. Hannah can understand where he's coming from sometimes because she's being raised by foster parents. Kek's indomitable spirit keeps him going throughout his hardships in America and he's pretty much an unfailing optimist. Parts of the book are sad, but other parts are unexpectedly funny.

It's a novel in verse, which I have mixed feelings about, but it worked for me. I really like that it shows immigration from a refugee's point of view. I think it will give kids a lot to think about and it presents the viewpoint in an accessible way.

My one big criticism is that it lacks an author's note. I would have loved to know how Katherine Applegate (author of the Animorphs series) was inspired to write this standalone novel and how she researched it. Luckily, Sandhya Nankani over at Literary Safari felt the same way and posted an interview with Ms. Applegate on her blog. Whew.

I'm no Newbery committee member, but I wouldn't be surprised if Home of the Brave got some Newbery action and I am a bit surprised that it doesn't seem to have any buzz... Hmm... What do I know?

Oh, yeah. For grade levels, I put down grades 4-7+. Even though I think the main audience for this book is middle grade readers, I think this book could easily be used with older kids in classrooms or suggested to older kids who dig this kind of stuff. A notable readalike suggestion is A Step from Heaven by An Na, which also deals with an immigrant experience and is also told in verse (although it is much darker than Home of the Brave).