The horrors of the Guatemalan civil war are filtered through the eyes of a boy coming of age.
Set in Chopán in 1981, this verse novel follows the life of Carlos, old enough to feed the chickens but not old enough to wring their necks as the story opens. Carlos’ family and other villagers are introduced in early poems, including Santiago Luc who remembers “a time when there were no soldiers / driving up in jeeps, holding / meetings, making / laws, scattering / bullets into the trees, / hunting guerillas.” On an errand for his mother when soldiers attack, Carlos makes a series of decisions that ultimately save his life but leave him doubting his manliness and bravery. An epilogue of sorts helps tie the main narrative to the present, and the book ends on a hopeful note. In her debut, Brown has chosen an excellent form for exploring the violence and loss of war, but at times, stylistic decisions (most notably attempts at concrete poetry) appear to trump content. While some of the individual poems may be difficult for readers to follow and the frequent references to traditional masculinity may strike some as patriarchal, the use of Spanish is thoughtful, as are references to local flora and fauna. The overall effect is a moving introduction to a subject seldom covered in fiction for youth.
A promising debut. (glossary, author Q&A) (Verse/historical fiction. 10-14)