“In Kek’s story, I hope readers will see the neighbor child with a strange accent, the new kid in class from some faraway land, the child in odd clothes who doesn’t belong. I hope they see themselves.” Katherine Applegate
These words, found on the inside flap of the Katherine Applegate’s first standalone novel, Home of the Brave, convey some of the emotion behind her powerfully written story. Although it took me about two chapters to fully engage with Home of the Brave, I later found that I couldn’t put it down. News images flashed across my mind as Kek’s story unfolded, causing me to engage on an emotional level when faraway scenes of immigrants fleeing their homes flashed across my digital screens.
Before reading Home of the Brave, I knew Applegate as the author of Animorphs – the only series my younger son ever wanted to own. That was back in 1996. Here’s what one review says about this relatively more recent (2008, reprinted 2014) release. “The evocative spareness of the verse narrative will appeal to poetry lovers as well as reluctant readers and ESL students.”—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. If I were still in the classroom, I’d definitely read this book with my students. Kek’s story not only provides students with empathetic, sometimes humorous glimpses into an immigrant’s life. It also touches on the basic human need we all have to feel like we belong – to find a place we can truly call home, making it a perfect middle grade book.
I also found Home of the Brave a great study in honing my writing craft. Our MG Lunchbreak group has looked at novels through the lens of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, and I found Home of the Brave’s pacing in stride with Snyder’s beat sheet. For example, the “B Story” occurs after breaking into act two when Hannah asks Kek, “How about your mom?”
I’ll wait here for her.
Waiting is hard too, Hannah says,
and I can see that she also knows sad places.
Then there’s Snyder’s Midpoint when, as Snyder says, “the main character either gets everything they think they want (great) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (awful).” Applegate does both at the midpoint when she brilliantly locks hope and despair together in a deathhold embrace through the plot, the environment, and her metaphoric prose. It occurs when spring comes, Kek has a pet cow, and Kek and Ganwar have jobs on the farm.
Something strange is happening to the world.
I hear birdsong now, where only silence filled the air before.
Tiny green hints dot the trees and bushes.
The snow is getting smaller and grayer,
like an old person whose time is past.
I highly recommend this book to writers wishing to improve their craft, teachers desiring to promote empathy and cultural understanding, parents wishing to broaden their children’s worldview and to my most favorite people of all, middle grade students!