Review: Katherine Applegate’s Home of the Brave

h1 October 16th, 2007 by jules

{Note: Please see the below post for today’s Robert’s Snow schedule!} . . .

What happens when the creator of the Animorphs series tackles a free verse novel? Well, something quite lovely after all.

In Home of the Brave (Feiwel & Friends; August 2007; review copy), Katherine Applegate’s first stand-alone literary novel, she tells the story of Kek, who once lived in Africa with his mother, father, and brother but lost the latter two in the midst of war in Sudan. After time at a refugee camp, he is reunited with his aunt and cousin, Ganwar, already living in America as refugees, and befriends a cow at a nearby farm, which reminds him of home (“You can have your dogs and cats,/ your gerbils and hamsters/ and sleek sparkling fish./ But you will have lived/ just half a life/ if you never love a cow”). The popularity of free verse and its constant abuse could be an altogether different post, but I think this one mostly works.

In an immediate, first-person voice, we get a detailed, emotional glimpse into Kek’s adjustment to America and its ways. With exact and accessible language — as well as many evocative metaphors, as Kek tries to acclimate to his new life (“we stop at a light/ hung high in the air,/ red and round/ like a baby sun”) — Applegate gives young readers a compelling account of life as an outsider in America. As Hazel Rochman put it in her Booklist review, this novel allows young readers to get behind “those news images of streaming refugees far away.” And I must add that the beautiful entry “Mama,” as Kek longs to receive news that his mother is alive, could stand alone as its own poem, separate from the novel. This one made my heart knock itself around in my chest a little while. I think I read it several times before moving on:

I have my father’s will,
my brother’s eyes,
and my mother’s light.

She is like newborn sun,
fresh with promise,
the just-beginning moments
before the day
fills like a bucket
with good and bad,
sweat and longing.

Even her laughter has sun in it.

Always when I think of her
I see a cloudless day blooming full,
I feel warmth on my shoulders,
I know hope’s embrace.

I am just a boy like any boy.
I make trouble,
I’m lazy,
I kick at the world
when I’m mad.

I don’t know why I have been so lucky,
to be so loved.

And, though Ganwar may never acclimate to life as an immigrant (“We don’t belong here, Kek, Ganwar says./ This isn’t our country./ It never will be”), it’s a happy — even if somewhat pat — ending for Kek, who eventually learns the meaning of home and that “finding the sun is one way to be a man.”

One comment to “Review: Katherine Applegate’s Home of the Brave

  1. Thanks for this. I read “Home of the Brave” aloud to my spellbound son and then to a group of knitting women because of the evocative imagery and lovable first person voice. Free verse books like this, when done well, make fantastic read-alouds. The Fire Escape’s review is coming soon!

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