Review: Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins
Title: Bamboo People
Author: Perkins, Mitali
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, General
Publisher / Year: Charlesbridge / 2010
To Be Released: July 1st, 2010
Source: From the publisher at Book Expo America, signed by the author!
Why I Read It: A huge thank you to Lenore for mentioning this book and bringing it to my attention!
Date Read: 25/06/10
Read this book. That is all.
I lie, that is not all. How could I leave you with only that and expect you to listen? So instead I will give you more information about why this is one of the best and most important YA books I’ve read this year, and why I think everyone – including those who don’t read much YA – should read it. (Yes, I liked it THAT much.)
First of all, the issues. This book deals with issues specifically relating to Burma, but they aren’t specific to Burma at all. Civil conflict, child soldiers, refugees, ethnic violence, injustice, hate, these are issues that are current all over the world. This book does an absolutely brilliant job of outlining how and why people become how they are, and what is truly important. The back cover says:
“A man full of hatred is like a gun, my son,” Peh says. “He can be used for only one purpose – to kill. And that’s why I’m going to stay like the bamboo, Tu Reh. I want to be used for many purposes.”
This coming-of-age story takes place against the political and military backdrop of modern-day Burma. Narrated by two teenage boys on opposing sides of the conflict between the Burmese governments and the Karenni, one of the many ethnic minorities in Burma, Bamboo People explores the nature of violence, power, and prejudice as seen through the eyes of child soldiers and refugees.
Chiko, a studious and peaceful Burmese boy whose father has been seized by the government for his liberal views, is conscripted into the Burmese army. Tu Reh, an angry Karenni boy whose family’s home and bamboo fields have been destroyed by Burmese soldiers, is eager to fight for independence. Timidity becomes courage and anger becomes tolerance as each boy is changed by unlikely friendships forged by extreme circumstances.
Perkins has written an incredibly powerful and moving book that deals with these issues beautifully. The book never became cliché or boring, the story pulled me right in and didn’t let go. I was left wanting more, wanting to know what happened next to all of the characters, to the places the story took place.
I have previously read other books about civil conflicts and about child soldiers, so that part of the story was not so new to me. This was the first novel that I read about these issues though, and it was definitely more than I expected. I think everyone should read this to learn more about the issues and complexities that exist around the world, especially in these situations. It would have been easy to take the easy road, to portray the situation as less complex than it is, but Perkins never does that. The book is honest and real and truly shows the different views and opinions that people have.
Perkins includes an author’s note at the end of the book in which she talks about why she wrote this book, and about her time in Thailand and meeting Burmese refugees. She says (emphasis mine):
If you want to promote peace and democracy in Burma or help refugees fleeing from that country, please visit http://www.bamboopeople.org, where I provide resources, a teacher’s guide, and suggestions for involvement.
This is one of those books that I feel like I *should* give away because I want more people to read it, but I can’t bear to part with it yet. It will make the rounds of my family and friends – whoever I can force to read it basically, and then I will consider again