Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins

Bamboo People
Mitali Perkins
Charlesbridge Publishing
Bang! A side door bursts open. Soldiers pour into the room. They're shouting and waving rifles. I shield my head with my arms. It was a lie! I think, my mind racing.
Girls and boys alike are screaming. The soldiers prod and herd some of us together and push the rest apart as if we're cows or goats. Their leader is a middle—aged man. He's moving slowly, intently, not dashing around like the others.
" Take the boys only, Win Min," I overhear him telling a tall, gangly soldier. "Make them obey."
This is still an area of current events many young people may not be familiar with, and whether as a private read or a class assignment, Bamboo People is an excellent way to bring them right to the heart of the conflict. In addition to the war in Burma, there are a myriad of other issues that could take hours of class discussion time.
Chiko isn't a fighter by nature. He's a book-smart Burmese boy whose father, a doctor, is in prison for resisting the government. When Chiko is forced into the army be trickery, he must find the courage to survive the mental and physical punishment meted out by the training faciliy's menacing captain.

Tu Reh can't forget the image of the Burmese soldiers buring his home and the bamboo fields of his oppressed Karenni people, one of the many ethnic minorities in Burma. Now living in a Karenni refugee camp on the Thai border, Tu Reh is consumed by anger and the need for revenge. He can't wait to join his father and the Karenni resistance in the effort to protect their people.

Chiko and Tu Reh's stories come to a violent intersection as each boy is sent on his first mission into the jungle. Extreme circumstances and unlikely friendships force each boy to confront what it means to be a man to his people.

The general attitude among some teens is still that being a soldier might be cool (and we do in fact think our American military members are pretty darn cool). Chiko's experiences, however, will take away quite a bit of the perceived glamour. And in a time when many young men - and women - are filled with feelings of anger and helplessness, it is Tu Reh's story in particular that may open a dialogue about what it in fact takes to be a man.

Perkins as usual conveys culture, politics, and history in such a way that readers never feel like they are being instructed. Characters are real and easy to empathise with from their first introduction. A must-have for any middle or high school library. We give it a

5 out of 5.

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