By Elizabeth Wroten
Middle Grade Review: Caminar by Skila Brown
On 21, Apr 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: Carlos knows that when the soldiers arrive with warnings about the Communist rebels, it is time to be a man and defend the village, keep everyone safe. But Mama tells him not yet — he’s still her quiet moonfaced boy. The soldiers laugh at the villagers, and before they move on, a neighbor is found dangling from a tree, a sign on his neck: Communist. Mama tells Carlos to run and hide, then try to find her. . . . Numb and alone, he must join a band of guerillas as they trek to the top of the mountain where Carlos’s abuela lives. Will he be in time, and brave enough, to warn them about the soldiers? What will he do then?
Although a different type of story, Caminar reminds me of The Red Pencil and even Inside Out and Back Again. Like The Red Pencil and Inside Out, it is a story of a refugee told in verse, but this is more than just a story about conflict. It’s a coming of age novel. Carlos is on the cusp of leaving childhood when the Guatemalan army arrives in his village. They return a few days later and massacre the villagers. Fortunately for Carlos he is in the woods collecting mushrooms. In desperation he heads for his grandmother’s village higher up the mountain.
Carlos spends his time in the woods reflecting back on the people he knew and fears are dead, including one of the village elders, Santiago. Santiago tells stories from long ago, traditional stories including ones about nahuales, spirit animals meant to guide and aid their people. As a child living in the comfort of his village, Carlos rejects this idea as silly and old. But, Carlos keeps coming back to this idea as he finds his spirit guide, an owl, in the forest and comes to read signs in its behavior.
It isn’t, however, this that truly makes his transition to manhood and this is what makes this book so wonderful. Certainly there is the surface story of Carlos going into the woods, losing his home and mother, and then saving his grandmother’s village. While on his journey Carlos comes to accept the old folklore, language, and ways of his people and after the attack by the army on his grandmother’s village Carlos realizes he can be a go-between for his people and the broader world. It’s his acceptance of this role and rejection of being vengeful that makes him truly a man.
There is plenty of action and suspense in the novel which would make it a great pick for a reluctant reader. The fact that it’s in verse would too. It’s very impactful and a quick, but deep read. While it covers violent events I think the combination of verse and things happening off page make this fine for middle schoolers. In fact it would be a great history lesson, introducing a place and time American education rarely touches.
As a side note, I absolutely love this cover. Not only is beautiful and simple it really captures both the guerrilla rebels and Carlos hiding out in the jungle.