Reviews for Home of the Brave

Booklist Reviews 2007 July #1
Kek, a young Sudanese refugee, is haunted by guilt that he survived. He saw his father and brother killed, and he left his mother behind when he joined his aunt's family in Minnesota. In fast, spare free verse, this debut novel by nonfiction writer Applegate gets across the immigrant child's dislocation and loss as he steps off the plane in the snow. He does make silly mistakes, as when he puts his aunt's dishes in the washing machine. But he gets a job caring for an elderly widow's cow that reminds him of his father's herds, and he helps his cousin, who lost a hand in the fighting. He finds kindness in his fifth-grade ESL class, and also racism, and he is astonished at the diversity. The boy's first-person narrative is immediately accessible. Like Hanna Jansen's Over a Thousand Hills I Walk with You (2006), the focus on one child gets behind those news images of streaming refugees far away. Copyright 2007 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2007 #6
While Applegate deftly portrayed children undergoing metamorphoses in her Animorphs books, the wildly popular 1990s fantasy series, here, in her first stand-alone novel, she is less successful at portraying a more realistic radical adjustment. Readers can't help but be moved by the circumstances that bring her narrator, ten-year-old Sudanese refugee Kek, from his homeland to Minneapolis: Kek's father and brother have been killed in the genocide, and his mother is missing. Kek mourns for his lost village life, where men measure their worth in cattle, and everyone has a "place in the world." Applegate constructs an artful free-verse narrative; yet, perhaps in over-earnest deference to Kek's culture, she has him speaking in a voice that often sounds too old and too poetic, as when he likens trying to understand English to being caught in a "river of words, / rushing and thundering / ...Now and then a word I know / darts up like a sparkling fish, / but then it's all dark / moving water again." This contrived speech detracts from the novel's looser, more authentic elements, such as a warm-hearted depiction of Kek's diverse ESL class and his confusion about day-to-day American life (he breaks his aunt's dishes by trying to clean them in the washing machine). His older cousin's more cynical attitude toward the family's prospects in America adds a layer of depth, but Applegate undercuts it with a sentimental and credulity-stretching ending. "When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion" is one of the African proverbs Applegate uses to introduce each section, but this novel ultimately slips through the net. Copyright 2007 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2007 August #1
From the author of the Animorphs series comes this earnest novel in verse about an orphaned Sudanese war refugee with a passion for cows, who has resettled in Minnesota with relatives. Arriving in winter, Kek spots a cow that reminds him of his father's herd, a familiar sight in an alien world. Later he returns with Hannah, a friendly foster child, and talks the cow's owner into hiring him to look after it. When the owner plans to sell the cow, Kek becomes despondent. Full of wide-eyed amazement and unalloyed enthusiasm for all things American, Kek is a generic--bordering on insulting--stereotype. His tribe, culture and language are never identified; personal details, such as appearance and age, are vague or omitted. Lacking the quirks and foibles that bring characters to life, Kek seems more a composite of traits designed to instruct readers than an engaging individual in his own right. Despite its lackluster execution, this story's simple premise and basic vocabulary make it suitable for younger readers interested in the plight of war refugees. (Fiction. 9-11) Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 August #2

In her first stand-alone book, Applegate (the Animorphs series) effectively uses free verse to capture a Sudanese refugee's impressions of America and his slow adjustment. After witnessing the murders of his father and brother, then getting separated from his mother in an African camp, Kek alone believes that his mother has somehow survived. The boy has traveled by "flying boat" to Minnesota in winter to live with relatives who fled earlier. An onslaught of new sensations greets Kek ("This cold is like claws on my skin," he laments), and ordinary sights unexpectedly fill him with longing (a lone cow in a field reminds him of his father's herd; when he looks in his aunt's face, "I see my mother's eyes/ looking back at me"). Prefaced by an African proverb, each section of the book marks a stage in the narrator's assimilation, eloquently conveying how his initial confusion fades as survival skills improve and friendships take root. Kek endures a mixture of failures (he uses the clothes washer to clean dishes) and victories (he lands his first paying job), but one thing remains constant: his ardent desire to learn his mother's fate. Precise, highly accessible language evokes a wide range of emotions and simultaneously tells an initiation story. A memorable inside view of an outsider. Ages 10-14. (Sept.)

[Page 68]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

School Library Journal Reviews 2007 October

Gr 5-7-- American culture, the Minnesota climate, and personal identity are examined in this moving first-person novel written in free verse. Kek comes to the U.S. from war-torn Sudan via a refugee camp. He arrives on a "flying boat" and is mystified by "not dead" trees in winter. Through his fresh eyes, readers see both the beauty and the ugliness of our way of life. The words themselves are simple, but Applegate introduces some hard ideas. How does someone know he has done well at the end of the day if all the familiar benchmarks are suddenly gone? Kek is both a representative of all immigrants and a character in his own right. A creative thinker, a problem-solver, and an optimist despite the horrors that have befallen him, he is a warm and winning protagonist. He bridges his herding culture and our own by finding a cow that needs his care, even in a metropolitan area, and uses ingenuity when threatened with yet more loss on that front. Kek will be instantly recognizable to immigrants, but he is also well worth meeting by readers living in homogeneous communities.--Faith Brautigam, Gail Borden Public Library, Elgin, IL

[Page 143]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

VOYA Reviews 2007 August
Kek's brother and father are killed in the Sudan, and he is separated from his mother. A refugee group finds Kek a new life in Minneapolis with his aunt and teenaged cousin. Although Kek finds the culture, economics, and climate of America vastly different from Africa, he makes friends and assimilates easily. He gets a job taking care of a cow because it makes him feel closer to his homeland where his father raised cattle. When the woman who owns the animal is forced to sell her farm, Kek's inventiveness saves the cow from being destroyed, demonstrating his abounding ability to find the positive in hardship This beautiful story of hope and resilience is written in free verse, a device that allows the author unlimited capacity to use colorful language and literary devices to compare the unfamiliar with the familiar, the positive with the negative. The result is an almost lyrical story of a young African boy who manages to remain upbeat despite the hardships and horror that he has witnessed and despite being thrust into an environment in sharp contrast to what he knows. Kek's voice is particularly strong as he models the difficulties experienced by a new immigrant. This book would make a great read-aloud as well as a discussion starter on the reasons why people choose to immigrate or how they might feel in a strange land. The book highlights the importance of attitude to success, a life lesson worth repeating as well.-Chris Carlson 4Q 4P M J S Copyright 2007 Voya Reviews.