*Home of the Brave is a 2007 Cybils Middle Grade Fiction nomine*

Katherine Applegate is also known as KA Applegate, creator of the Animorphs series (and writer of many of them, though quite a few were ghostwritten). I loved these books when I was younger, and even today, though I realize they’re far from being great literature, I still enjoy rereading my favorites. I still feel like I know the characters!

However, I wasn’t sure how great the writing would be in HOME OF THE BRAVE. Because, well, as exciting as the Animorphs books are to a nine-year-old, they’re not really very well-written. I was also unsure because HOME OF THE BRAVE is, to my knowledge, totally unlike anything Applegate has written before. It’s her first stand-alone novel, for one thing. It’s also a verse novel, something that can be hard to master. And it’s not sci-fi (thought I think she’s written other non-sci-fi books before, just nothing I’ve ever read).

This novel is told from the point of view of Kek, a young boy who comes alone to America from his home in Sudan, having lost his father and brother, not knowing where his mother is, to live with his aunt and older cousin. Possibly in Minnesota. I’m not sure. It sounds like Minnesota, there’s lots of snow and it’s really cold, and one character in the book mentions being from Minneapolis and having a brother who lives in St. Paul. Also, aren’t there a lot of African immigrants in that area? I think I read a magazine article about it. Someone, please, correct me if I’m wrong.

Anyway, Kek is quite obviously not used to life in America. His life at first was in a village in Sudan, with his family and his cattle and freedom. Then, the men with guns came and killed many people, but Kek and his mother got away and went to a refugee camp. Before he came to the US, though, he got separated from his mother. He doesn’t know where she is, or even if she’s alive. Kek is an eternal optimist, though.

Kek struggles to adapt to life in America–to school, where he is in an ESL class with kids from all over the world. To dishwashers, blue jeans, grocery stores, and other such things we take for granted. To speaking a new language. Luckily, though, he’s not alone. Kek has his aunt and Ganwar, a new friend named Hannah, the man from the Refugee Resettlement Center named Dave,  and an old woman named Louise who lets Kek look after her cow, whom he names Gol, the word in his native language for family.

Wow, just, wow. I mentioned my lack of expectations for this book, but it totally blew me away.  The verse is simple and powerful, told in first person through Kek’s eyes. The characters are wonderful. HOME OF THE BRAVE is a moving, amazingly well-written novel detailing a young boy’s struggles to adapt to life in a new country, an important topic. Kids need to understand this, with so many people from all over the world coming to America all the time. It’s a glimpse into the reality of that struggle, one we need. We come into contact with new immigrants all the time, and a better understanding of what they’re going through would be beneficial for anyone, but it’s something that kids in particular may not understand.

It’s also worth mentioning that HOME OF THE BRAVE is published by Feiwel and Friends, a relatively new imprint of Holtzbrink Publishers, and they’ve done a fantastic job with this book. I’ve got a couple of their other titles waiting to be read when I’m done with the Cybils, too.

In short, if you have any interest at all (and you should), I urge you to read this book! It’s amazing, nothing short of fantastic.