Having been an arrival to this country at age 12, I've always been interested in books that explore questions such as "What is home?" "What does it mean to be a stranger in a new land?" and "How does one begin to belong?"
A novel written in free verse, Home of the Brave is a poignant story about an African war refugee from Sudan named Kek who arrives in the US in the thick of winter in--of all places--Minnesota. His father and brother have been killed, his mother is missing, and he has lost everything about his life that he has ever known. Welcome to America.
From a dry, hot land where he was part of a nomadic herding tribe, Kek has arrived in a freezing cold country where he must not only learn a new language, but also make friends and cultivate hope for his future. Usually the optimist, even Kek feels distraught upon his arrival at his new home
In the course of this tender tale, Kek makes friends--with a neighbor living in foster care, with an old woman who owns a rundown farm, and with an aging cow named Gol (which means "family" in his native language). His relationship with Gol is critical to his sense of belonging--and interestingly, it's one where language is not important.
Through a combination of touching and humorous vignettes (my favorite being the time when he puts his aunt's dishes in the "washing machine," i.e. the laundry!), Applegate allows us to accompany Kek on his journey to find "home." And, isn't that something we all want to find?
Once in a while a children's story comes along that carries you away with lyrical language, an authentic voice, and a story that allows you to make connections much larger than its plot. For me, Home of the Brave did all of the above. I'd highly recommend it as a companion read to Shaun Tan's Arrival
, as well as on reading lists that deal with refugees, immigration, and home.