Reviews for Bamboo People

Booklist Reviews 2010 May #2
When 15-year-old Chiko is pressed into military service by the Burmese government, he finds himself involved in an ongoing war with the Karenni people, one of the many ethnic minorities in modern Burma. A scholar, not a soldier, Chiko soon gets wounded and finds himself at the mercy of Tu Reh, an angry Karenni boy only slightly older than he is. Will these two teens, who should be natural enemies, find a way to friendship? Perkins' latest novel--told in the individual voices of the two boys--explores that possibility while introducing a considerable amount of factual and contextual information about present-day Burma. Though occasionally didactic and a bit preachy, this is nevertheless a story that invites discussion of the realities of warfare rooted in long-standing antagonism and unreasoning hatred of "the other." A particularly good book for classroom use. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2010 July
Moving between cultures

Guerilla warfare, child soldiers and landmines: What do these ripped-from-the-headlines terms have to do with a coming-of-age story for young readers? As it turns out, quite a bit.

While displacement camps and military maneuvers are not the trappings of your standard touchy-feely “do the right thing” tale, they bring a sense of hard-edged reality to Mitali Perkins’ Bamboo People, an intriguing and insightful story about two boys learning how to become men in the midst of chaos.

The award-winning author of such internationally diverse books as Monsoon Summer, The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen, Secret Keeper and Rickshaw Girl takes us, this time, to the border between Burma and Thailand—and into the eye-opening lives of children in the midst of a war zone. Bamboo People follows two boys caught in the crossfire of the ongoing border fight—a cultural and land battle that has been waged for decades, but in recent years has escalated dramatically through the forced enlistment of child soldiers.

Chiko, a scholarly and quiet Burmese teen whose father has been imprisoned for having anti-government sympathies, longs to be a teacher and avoids conflict at all costs. In an unexpected turn of events, Chiko is forced to enlist in the Burmese army, where he learns that education is more than the stuff of books. On the other side of the lines is Tu Reh, a member of the Karenni ethnic group displaced by the fighting, who would give anything to prove he is man enough to carry a gun. Tu Reh and his family have lost their homes, their loved ones and much of their sense of community during the many years of fighting, and his prejudice against everything Burmese runs deep. When Chiko is injured behind enemy lines, it is up to Tu Reh to decide whether this boy, his supposed mortal enemy, lives or dies. It’s a decision that changes both their lives.

Perkins was inspired to write the story during the three years she and her husband, a Presbyterian minister, spent on a missionary assignment near the Burmese border in northern Thailand. Here, Perkins witnessed firsthand the hardships, tenacity and hope of those affected by war. “These people are in conditions that seem nearly unbearable: They have been hunted, forced into labor, lost their homes, and many are hiding in the jungle,” Perkins explains. “You see them trying to perpetuate nationhood, trying to teach civility to a younger generation, trying to keep a hold on their culture and language. It’s fascinating and sad, but amazing to hear their stories.”

She also learned that war is never black and white. “When you think about the Burmese army from the Karenni point of view, it’s easy to think about them as evil. But Burma used to have one of the highest literacy rates in the world, and now it has the most child soldiers. So you have all of these soldiers who are really young and uneducated. They are trying to send money back to their families, trying to make ends meet, and they are desperate. It’s not always clear who are the good guys or the bad guys.”

Having traveled the world from an early age, Perkins knows a little about how diverse the world can be. Her father, a civil engineer who developed shipping ports, took the family from their home in India to live in such places as Cameroon, Ghana, Mexico and London. But it wasn’t until she landed in America that she felt a culture shock. “I was often between cultures,” Perkins recalls. To find refuge, she would sneak onto her family’s New York City fire escape—and there she also found her passion for writing. “I used to take my Sweet Tart candies, a pen and my journal and go out there to write,” she remembers. “It was in between the world of home and the world outside, and even today the fire escape metaphor really works for me.” Indeed, Perkins has a blog called Fire Escape where she invites her readers to join her for chats, discussions and a place to “explore hopes, dreams, and fears.”

Her own sense of being in between cultures is also why she is so interested in sharing stories from around the world with her readers.

“I like opening the eyes of children,” Perkins says. “They are much more open-hearted and aware than many adults believe them to be.”

“I think there is a lack of respect for what children do and want to know,” the author says. “They understand the human experience much more than they are sometimes given credit for.”

Copyright 2010 BookPage Reviews.

ForeWord Magazine Reviews 2010 July
Chosen as a Junior Library Guild selection and included on IndieBound’s Summer 2010 Kid’s Indie Next List, Bamboo People is remarkable in its honest, poignant exploration of the everyday people involved in the conflict in Burma. Author Mitali Perkins exposes a major global issue, perhaps less known to juvenile readers, through an unassuming narration, and in doing so, creates an original work that will leave a lasting impression with readers of all ages. Told in three sections, Bamboo People features two teen narrators, Chiko and Tu Reh. Chiko is an intelligent, literate Burmese boy who is strongly opposed to the Burmese military effort, but is conscripted into the army. Tu Reh, on the other hand, the son of a respected, peaceful Karenni leader, fights for independence fueled by deep anger towards the Burmese, who burned down his family’s farm and home. While Chiko must find a way to get through his training and use his intelligence to his advantage, Tu Reh struggles with balancing his need for revenge with the integrity and values instilled in him by his family and community. The boys, whose journeys and struggles often seem to represent the average Burmese and Karenni experiences, are brought together when Chiko is put in a dangerous position that leaves him injured. While the problems of a foreign land might not initially attract some juvenile readers, the candor and simplicity of Perkins’ writing make not just the book, but the intellectual and political ideas behind the plot and theme, accessible. Short chapters help the book’s readability as well. Perkins has written six other novels, including Rickshaw Girl, also published by Charlesbridge, which won the Jane Addams Honor Award, the Maine Lupine Honor Award, and the Julia Ward Howe Honor Award.[Wed Aug 27 10:55:52 2014] Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\ line 249. A world traveler, Perkins’ firsthand views of Thailand, and Karenni and Burmese refugees inform her writing.Bamboo People strikes a wonderful balance between readability and meaning, exploring deep thematic issues such as honor, family, and the consequences of conflict. Without getting too graphic, the book communicates the struggles felt on both sides, and though the main characters are boys, the role of women is explored to an extent as well. At its core, Bamboo People gives nine-to twelve-year-olds an opportunity to broaden their horizons and learn about other culturesâ€"and isn’t broadening our experience one of the chief pleasures of literature? The book’s Web site provides even more information about the conflict, all generally presented in a non-threatening way. Through Bamboo People, even juvenile readers can become part of an intelligent, global community that will be empowered to truly effect positive change. 2010 ForeWord Reviews. All Rights Reserved.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2011 Spring
Bookish Chiko is press-ganged into the Burmese army. His faith and humanity serve him well after he's captured by Karenni rebels and taken to a refugee camp in Thailand. Halfway through, the novel switches to the viewpoint of Tu Reh, a Karenni boy involved in Chiko's capture. Writing in a present tense that adds urgency, Perkins draws a persuasive picture of contemporary Burma. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2010 #4
While Chiko doesn't completely believe the Burmese government is really hiring teachers, he dreams of becoming one, so he goes to the recruitment meeting-and finds himself abruptly press-ganged into the army and summarily bused to a remote camp in the border region to help put down the Karenni rebellion. Writing in a present tense that adds urgency to the story, Perkins draws a persuasive picture of contemporary Burma/Myanmar, sticking closely to the viewpoint of Chiko, a bookish, romantic boy whose father has already been imprisoned by the authoritarian regime. Living and training under brutal conditions, Chiko nevertheless holds on to his faith and humanity, both of which serve him well when he is captured by the Karenni rebels, who take him to a refugee camp in Thailand where he awaits their decision to kill him, keep him, or let him go. Halfway through, the novel switches to the point of view of Tu Reh, a Karenni boy involved in Chiko's capture, and while the two voices are not sufficiently distinct, their differing perspectives, as well as their commonalities, make the drama as moral as it is physical, and rich with action. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2010 June #2

Well-educated American boys from privileged families have abundant options for college and career. For Chiko, their Burmese counterpart, there are no good choices. There is never enough to eat, and his family lives in constant fear of the military regime that has imprisoned Chiko's physician father. Soon Chiko is commandeered by the army, trained to hunt down members of the Karenni ethnic minority. Tai, another "recruit," uses his streetwise survival skills to help them both survive. Meanwhile, Tu Reh, a Karenni youth whose village was torched by the Burmese Army, has been chosen for his first military mission in his people's resistance movement. How the boys meet and what comes of it is the crux of this multi-voiced novel. While Perkins doesn't sugarcoat her subject—coming of age in a brutal, fascistic society—this is a gentle story with a lot of heart, suitable for younger readers than the subject matter might suggest. It answers the question, "What is it like to be a child soldier?" clearly, but with hope. (author's note, historical note) (Fiction. 11-14)

Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal BookSmack
Far from the battlefields of our own nation's Civil War comes a story of civil conflict in modern Myanmar (formerly Burma). Chiko, 15, does not know where his next meal will come from. His surgeon father has been arrested, and his mother does not want him to leave the house. Her worst fears are realized when scholarly Chiko answers an ad for teachers and is conscripted to fight as a child soldier. By contrast, Tu Reh has always wanted to fight on the side of the Karenni resistance. Indicative of many of Myanmar's oppressed minorities, the Karenni exist in refugee camps along the country's border. When Tu Reh discovers Chiko injured in the forest, the two boys forge a friendship despite their nation's troubled circumstances.--Angelina Benedetti, "35 Going on 13," BookSmack! 8/19/10 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Library Media Connection Reviews 2010 November/December
Set in Burma, this novel highlights the struggles of everyday people against a tyrannical government. Chiko, whose father was seized by the authorities because of his political views, represents one viewpoint, while Tu Reh, a Karenni young man, represents another. The first half of the novel is Chiko?s story, while the second half is Tu Reh?s. In order to support himself and his mother, Chiko applies for a teaching job. At city hall, soldiers force Chiko and others to join the army. Chiko is injured on a mission in Thailand. Tu Reh and his family are Burmese refugees who escaped to Thailand after soldiers burned their home and fields. When he comes across the injured Chiko, he wants to leave him to die, but his father takes Chiko to the village where he is healed. Tu Reh and Chiko come to an understanding. This title is realistic fiction at its best. The multiple settings, the characterization, and the dialogue are well done, and the reader becomes engrossed in another culture and gains a greater understanding of a country torn apart by its government?s brutality. Recommended. Susie Nightingale, Educational Reviewer, Lawrence, Kansas ¬ 2010 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2010 June #2

Perkins (Secret Keeper) pulls back a curtain on the current conflict in Myanmar (formerly Burma) in this tensely plotted portrait of teens caught in the crossfire. The novel is narrated in two parts, the first by Chiko, a son of Burmese intellectuals who hopes to become a teacher. Perkins sets a chain reaction in motion when Chiko answers an advertisement looking for educators, only to be conscripted into the Burmese army, where an unlikely friendship alters the course of his life even more drastically. Perkins seamlessly blends cultural, political, religious, and philosophical context into her story, which is distinguished by humor, astute insights into human nature, and memorable characters. Teenage Tu Reh, a Karenni (one of the nation's ethnic minorities), narrates the second half, which begins when he and his father find an injured Burmese soldier (whose identity is instantly apparent), presenting an equally nuanced view from the perspective of the supposed enemy. As Chiko and Tu Reh wrestle with prejudices of culture and class, Perkins delivers a graceful exploration of the redemptive power of love, family, and friendship under untenable circumstances. Ages 11-14. (July)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2010 November

Gr 7-10--With authenticity, insight, and compassion, Perkins delivers another culturally rich coming-of-age novel. Two teens on opposing sides of ethnic conflict in modern-day Burma (Myanmar) tell an intertwined story that poignantly reveals the fear, violence, prejudice, and hardships they both experience. Chiko, a quiet, studious student whose medical doctor father has been arrested as a traitor, is seized by the government and forced into military training. Chiko is groomed for guerrilla warfare against the Karenni, a Burmese minority group living in villages and refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border. After he and his patrol stumble into land mines, Tu Reh, an angry Karenni and rebel fighter, must decide whether or not to save him. Tu Reh's home was destroyed by Burmese soldiers, and he struggles with his conscience and his desire for revenge and independence. Both Chiko and Tu Reh are caught in a conflict that neither fully understands. Family, friendships, and loyalty have shaped their lives. But as young soldiers, they face harrowing situations, profound suffering, and life-and-death decisions. Both boys learn the meaning of courage. Chiko and Tu Reh are dynamic narrators whose adolescent angst and perspectives permeate the trauma of their daily lives. Dialogue and descriptions are vibrant; characters are memorable; cultural characteristics are smoothly incorporated; and the story is well paced. Perkins has infused her narrative with universal themes that will inspire readers to ponder humanitarian issues, reasons for ethnic conflict, and the effects of war. The author's notes provide helpful background information on Burmese history and the ongoing military regime's repression of minorities.--Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NC

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