I read this juvenile book because it’s up for an award. Written in poems, this is the story of Carlos who lives in a small village in Guatemala in 1981. As the army and the gorillas battle, Carlos’ childhood ends as he runs into the jungle to his grandmother’s village. The poems vary in length and have dramatic pauses when needed. Confusion is clear in the beginning as Carlos and his friends try to understand what a communist is, why soldiers play soccer with them, and ultimately why gunfire rains down on the village.
Poems have a very visual layout. Sometimes they are shapes, other times free verse, and even other times with dramatic pauses or lines skipped, much like a pause when reading – or how Carlos is thinking. I especially liked “Argument with a Boy” which is once he has run into the woods, seen people of his village marched into trenches (presumably shot or perhaps told to march). The layout has a conversation on the left and a separate one on the right. In between the differing thoughts is simply stated “I walked” every other line. This helps the reader understand the loneliness, the hope and the fear he feels, but mostly that he just keeps walking alone and questioning himself since there is no one else to talk to.
Soon Carlos joins the Gorillas, not quite ready to fight with them, but they allow him to camp with them, and befriend him, especially another young boy.
I don’t think this book will win the Teen Book Award for which it is nominated, but if an English class wanted to study poetry, how to read the spaces, the variety of poems, or the shapes, it would be a good read. Interesting, war focused, spoken very honestly like a preteen boy….. some kids, perhaps those reluctant to poetry especially, would enjoy the read…. but I don’t expect it to win the award. Partly due to its topic and partly due to the format. But I thought it was well written, honest, and a creative delivery – but I also love poetry so maybe I’m always one to support.
Carlos does make it up the mountain to his Abuela’s village and warns them the army is coming. They all escape to the trees with his warning. in other words —- They live; he is a man (in his eyes). He has saved a village when he has lost his own.
The truth of what happens to his village is difficult for Carlos to grasp, but an epilogue set in 2014 brings some closure for him, and for the reader.