Monday, February 10, 2014

Caminar - a review

Brown, Skila. 2014. Caminar. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

While many other families in Carlos' rural Guatemalan village are large and boisterous, he and his mother live alone.  He's not yet a man.  He's afraid of the dark. He listens to his mother.

Guerilla Rain

They came

in rain,
the end
of wet
season, when
rain was
no longer

it beat
our roof,
turned floor
to mud,
washed off
the army

they came
in rain.
We huddled
inside, waited
for earth
to stop
its          slide.

They came,
sacks          empty
bellies         empty
guns            full.


They marched
right through
our town,
made their
way into
the jungle.

And when
the last
of them
had been
sucked in
by thick
green arms,

the rain
After the rebels pass, his mother knows that the soldiers will be back, and she tells him,

Unsure of who is the enemy, the rebels or the army's soldiers, Carlos heads for the place where he is most comfortable, the trees. In the cover of the trees, he makes his way up the mountain toward his grandmother's village.  When he meets up with guerilla fighters, he must make the biggest choice of his life.

A debut novel in verse, Caminar is a rural boy's perception of a sad time in 1981, when the fighting between Guatemalan rebels and soldiers (which, according to the author's note claimed 200,000 lives over the course of time), disrupted his village of  Chopán forever. In Carlos' fictional Chopán, where the people still speak indigenous languages, there is disagreement.  Are the guerilla fighters Communists, rebels, freedom fighters? Are the Guatemalan soldiers oppressors, liberators, defenders?  To non-Spanish-speaking, non land-owning villagers, it matters not.  In the end, they are both the enemy.

Featuring different types of poetry, including one styled after Marilyn Singer's unique "reverso" poems, Skila Brown often employs "concrete" effects, using spacing to punctuate a feeling or mood.  Poetry is an excellent vehicle for delivering a complex and nuanced book on a disturbing topic to a young audience. Brown deliberately leaves space for reflection between the leaves.

A Note from the Author, Glossary, Q&A with the Author, and Acknowledgments help to round out the historical aspects of the story. Best for middle-grade readers.

Review copy supplied by the publisher.  Due on shelves in March, 2014.

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