July 1st, 2010 by Karen
If you read Nancy’s post about her experience at Book Expo America, then you know that I snatched up her copy of Mitali Perkins’ Bamboo People before you can say, “Excuse me, where are you taking my book? Hey, I wanted to read that!”
Part of the reason I wanted to check out the book (which comes out today) is because I knew it had been getting lots of good reviews. But the bigger reason is because Bamboo People takes place in Burma (also known as Myanmar), and as you might recall from my posts about traveling to Burma last winter, that’s where my mom grew up.
There aren’t many books set in Burma — let alone kids’ books — so I was pumped to get my hands on a copy of Bamboo People. And as soon as I got ahold of the book, I was hooked.
The story is broken up into two parts:
Part 1 is told from the perspective of 15-year-old Chiko, the educated son of a doctor. But he’s not leading a comfortable life at all. The military government has imprisoned Chiko’s father, and he and his mother live in fear that Chiko will be forced into army service at any minute. Then their nightmare comes true, and Chiko’s off to the jungle for training — forced to serve a government that oppresses its people, and to fight a native group that Chiko doesn’t believe is the enemy.
Part 2 is narrated by Tu Reh, also 15 years old. He is a member of the native group defending themselves from the Burmese government. As a child, he watched Burmese soldiers burning his village — so unlike Chiko, he believes in his cause. But what will he do when everything he thinks he knows is challenged?
As you can see, the story is totally gripping. I couldn’t want to see what would happen next and read a few pages whenever I had a spare moment — to the point where I would pull out the book in the elevator, on a 5-minute bus ride, even while I waited by the photocopier. Yes, the story is THAT suspenseful.
But beyond that, I also enjoyed getting a view into the situation in Burma, which doesn’t get a lot of attention in the United States. And even though I visited Burma not too long ago, a lot of what I read in the book was new to me!
So I lent Bamboo People to my mom (sorry, Nancy, you’re never getting your book back!), and I asked her what she thought, as a former Burmese citizen.