Caminar – Skila Brown



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.


All the Truth That’s In Me

Award Nominee, diversity in YA, families

It begins with the sense that there is already disappointment or danger in our young narrator’s life. “In time, you became a man, and at once, I became this”

Divided into Books, and then brief paragraphs separated by roman numerals, it starts as if each paragraph is an afterthought with a lingering pause as if each thought is waking into a new moment after a restful sleep. Early on, the reader senses longing and regret from our narrator for a future that was lost, an experience that was forced, and a return that is half empty. Judith is silent, seen more as a nuisance by her mother and brother than a daughter or sister.  Her role in the tiny community is isolated and she is a presence only, not a friend or participant after a 2 year absence.

You see, a fellow farmer and community deacon, after his wife left him, took two girls.  After drinking his way to madness, setting his home on fire, one girl washed up the river dead, the other returned to her family missing not only two years of her life, her innocence, but also half of her tongue.

We start with a one-sided love story between neighbors who live in cabins and live the simple life.  With families that came together on a boat, they have been intertwined for years in Roswell Station.  Farming, living, and living in a safe, small community – one in which there needs to be a guard each night watching the ocean for ships and invaders (homelanders).

As the story continues, the second person narrative gets a bit old.  Although I suppose if you were always spying on someone I would think of it as a “you did this”  and then “you did that”.  Each section? Chapter? …. the writing is broken up sometimes after only a few lines and sometimes after pages, but I don’t know my roman numerals much past 20 so I acknowledge the style as pauses in thought, or a dimming of lights to end one scene and then light up the stage again to a new thought, scene, chapter, or whatever I call it, it is lovely prose often sucking me in and keeping me reading longer than I should.

I felt like the plot ended with the resolution of the battle and the death of Judith’s abductor, which made me wonder where the story was headed. As Judith returns home with the injured men from her town, the community slowly recovers from the battle. She also finds a friend in an unlikely person, her own strength, and her own voice.

(and as a mom of two young children, I personally liked this expansion of my phrase “use your words” when my son was learning to talk.  Maria to Judith, “Use language worthy of your mind. Use what you have. Stretch it forward” —- that’s going to become my new ‘use your words’)