February 21, 2008

Katherine Applegate's newest novel

It's easy to cherish a friend who allows you to have a good, long cry without being affected by the ugliness of sadness unleashed in its liquid form. Every now and then, a book comes along that offers a similar kindness, immersing and indulging us in its great sadness for our own good.

Home of the Brave, Katherine Applegate's first stand-alone novel for children, has that distinction. In the sparest writing possible, Applegate, who also wrote the enormously popular Animorph series for children, brings forth Kek, a Sudanese boy who comes to America after his country is overrun with violence and chaos. Through Kek's eyes, readers see the incredible abundance of America. Revealing Kek's mind, Home of the Brave turns the American world-perspective upside down, yet remains patriotic and heroic. As an example of a cultural identity that's far from our own, Kek sees advancing age and wrinkles as a badge of honor. Here, he describes a new friend:

"She has many wrinkles
to show her great knowledge
of the world."

I am usually tempted to say that children shouldn't read sad books. In this case, I make an exception. Maybe our kids will be better adults than we are, learning suffering and horror from a gentle child who manages to avoid becoming hateful and angry. Perhaps as adults they'll feel a greater call to action than we have when they read the headlines of some future disaster in a poor and distant country. Kids and adults will walk away from this book more aware of their blessings, more convicted about sharing the world's resources with our brothers and sisters both here and abroad. Add Kek to your list of friends with whom you can have a good cry.

For more information on Katherine Applegate's latest releases, visit her web site, http://www.katherineapplegate.com/nonflash.html

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