Children’s Fiction of 2007: Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate

I like poetry as much as the next guy, which is to say I have my favorites (mostly rhyming poetry with a distinctive metric pattern) but a lot of it leaves me, well, sort of . . . confused. Home of the Brave is a novel for middle grade children written in free verse form (is that a contradiction in terms?). It’s not confusing, but it’s really a prose story in spite of the author’s admittedly masterful use of poetic images and devices. At least, I think it’s prose, and the arrangement of the words on the page annoyed me all the way through to about page 150 when I finally came to terms with the gimmick and forgot about it. Here, I’ll give you the first lines of the novel as an example:

When the flying boat
returns to earth at last,
I open my eyes
and gaze out the round window.
What is all the white? I whisper.
Where is all the world?

I’m a little fuzzy about the line between poetry, especially free verse, and prose, but I could read those sentences more fluently if they stretched across the page and wrapped around like prose instead of breaking off each phrase and falling down to the next line. I guess I’m just a creature of prosy habit.

Home of the Brave is the story of Kek, a refugee from Sudan who is being resettled in Minnesota with his aunt and his cousin, Ganwar. Kek’s family all died in the wars in Sudan, except for his mother who is missing and may also be dead. Kek indeed needs a great deal of bravery to make himself a home in this new place of America. Slowly Kek makes friends with a girl named Hannah who lives in his apartment complex, with some of the other immigrants who are in his ESL class at school, and, best of all, with a cow to whom he gives the name, Gol, family.

Maybe the arrangement of the words in verse form was meant to mirror the way Kek thinks and talks in his new language in fits and starts and phrases, but why couldn’t it look like this instead:

When I bury my face in Gol’s old hide I smell hay and dung and life. She shelters me like a warm wall, and that is enough for this day.

I rather liked this story of an immigrant’s experience in acclimating to the U.S. and of family and what it means from the persepctive of a diiferent cultural background. Do you think the publisher might put out a new edition in prose form for the prosaic among us? It would make the book a lot shorter, I think, not so much white space. But the story and the language would still be there, and those are the parts I enjoyed the most.

I have a friend, Aruna. from Sierra Leone; he’s the adopted son of one of my best friends. I would love to give Aruna a copy of this book. I think he could identify with the character of Kek.

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate, who by the way is the author of the Animorphs series, is nominated for the Cybil Award for Middle Grade Fiction.

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