Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Middle Grade Book of the Month: Journey of Dreams

Journey of Dreams by Marge Pellegrino

Rating: 4/5

IQ "Each footstep is like a string wrapped by a thread, marking another piece of our journey. Only God knows how large the fabric will grow or how long our lives will be. If my prayers are heard, we will be with Mama and Carlos before it is finished. I wish I knew what kind of images we will weave between now and then." Tomasa

I very much enjoyed Journey of Dreams. It was an enlightening book about a time period and a culture that I knew nothing about. The book is set during the 1980s when the Guatemalan army was engaged in their 'scorched earth' campaign. The Guatemalan government wanted to either relocate or eliminate the Quiche (or Ki'che) Mayans who live in the Guatemalan highlands, this would result in genocide. There are still many missing people to this day. In Journey of Dreams, Tomasa and her family of Quiche Indians must flee their home in Guatemala, mainly because their mother has spoken out against all the killings and pollution resulting from the planes spraying chemicals over the fields ("that plane spits poison"). Also, her older brother is of eligible age to be forced to fight in the Guatemalan army, so the mom and brother leave first, since they are endangering their family (the brother, Carlos, refuses to fight). Soon after, Tomasa, her father, brother Manuelito and her baby sister Maria leave their village to be reunited with their family.

I thought this book was middle grade, but Amazon classifies it as YA. Due to the age of the protagonist (13), I'm going to call it middle grade. She's young and the mature topics in the book are very well handled for younger readers. This was my first middle grade book to be reviewed and my fear was that the main character would either act more mature than a normal 13 year old, or seem so immature that I couldn't relate to her. To my immense relief, Marge Pellegrino does a wonderful job of maintaining a reasonable balance. Tomasa is mature, but only because she has had to grow up fast. We see death, armies and poverty through her eyes and it provides a fresh perspective. She doesn't understand all that's going on, but she grasps the main points. Her naivete is a nice change from the usual hardened teenager (very much 'why can't we all just get along').

I loved reading the stories that Papa shares with Tomasa and her siblings on the journey to quiet and calm them, it always connected back to their experience. Also, Tomasa is a dreamer, she has lots of dreams (both at night and during the day), her dreams were her interpretations of Papa's stories. Another one of my favorite aspects of the novel is how the author introduces secondary characters to emphasis all sides of this terrible time of genocide in Guatemala. You see the issues from various perspectives along with Tomasa's viewpoint.

You can read another review of Journey of Dreams here. All in all, I would recommend Journey of Dreams to middle grade readers (6th-8th) as well as young adults. Teenagers won't feel talked down to and middle schoolers won't feel overwhelmed by complex themes and words. The story is sweet, simplistic and a powerful one. It describes in flourishing detail, the refugee experience.

My original goal was to review a Middle Grade book each month. I may do it more often than that since I want to stay current and there a lot more MG titles I want to read and that I've already read. So let me know what you think. I want to know; was the review too long/confusing for middle graders and should I continue to review MG books?

Disclosure: Received from Lyn Miller-Lachman. Thank you!


  1. I have this one in my pile and I am looking forward to it. I visited Guatemala back in 1998 (wow - long ago!) and loved it.

  2. Great review, Ari. I like your discussion of how mature topics are handled in middle grade fiction. In fact, I've seen more political and global issues presented recently in middle grade fiction than in YA fiction--not just Journey of Dreams but also Ann Burg's All the Broken Pieces (which recalls Katherine Applegate's Home of the Brave published a few years ago), Debby Dahl Edwardson's Blessing's Bead, Beverly Naidoo's Burn My Heart, S. Terrell French's Operation Redwood, and Julia Alvarez's Return to Sender, to name a few.


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