Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Brown, Skila. Caminar.

Brown, Skila.  Caminar.  Candlewick Press  2016  193p            $7.99  ISBN 978-0-7636-9094-6  ms/hs       Realistic fiction  E-BN        

Chopan, Guatemala, will never be the same now that the soldiers have come.  Seeking Communists, the soldiers frighten everyone who is apathetic, does not support them, or is scared, and they kill randomly if someone names a village member as a Communist.  Told from the perspective of a young boy, Carlos, this short volume reveals the atrocities of war in another area of the world, Central America.  It is difficult to name the enemy, as both sides commit untold injustices, and the villagers, who do not want to take sides, are caught up in the battle for survival.  Carlos is told by Mother to flee when the soldiers come, and he describes his world in images and sounds — a trench, an owl, the sounds of a helicopter, the pops of gunfire, and more.  This powerful imagery is best expressed in stanzas of poetry, the style chosen by author Skila Brown to tell Carlos’ story.  All children need resilience to survive youth, but Carlos needs that and much more.  He has observed those around him, and with skills that belie his young age, he climbs trees, joins a band of young rebels, and ekes out an existence in the jungle/mountainous region of his country.  Brown uses not only verse to tell her story; she also uses line length and position to masterfully describe Carlos and his journey up the mountain to survive.  Supporting characters are equally resilient: Flora, Carlos’s young friend whom he has often fed because she has a large family; Mama, a woman with vision who only wishes life for her son; Paco, Miguel, Hector and Ana, the young rebels who befriend Carlos and help him as much as he helps them; and Abuela, an innocent who Carlos must protect after he loses his world.  Poignant, devastating, heartfelt and horrific are just a few adjectives that describe this novel.  Children have often described their experiences during wartime in their own voices; this is not new.  However, Brown’s choices are chilling and powerful — the jungles of Guatemala, a battle that is not clearly defined, and an enemy as elusive as it is random.             

Summary: When Carlos’ mother tells him to flee, he reluctantly runs into the mountains to survive.  War has come to his small village, and he knows how to climb trees to hide.  Through his perspective, the novel describes what happens as he survives the fighting. 

War-Fiction, Survival-Fiction, Stories in verse                                                           —Martha Squaresky

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