Monday, July 5, 2010

Male Monday: Bamboo People

Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins 2010 ARC

Rating: 5/5

IQ "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. Not just one.'" pg. 148-149 (I know it's the quote on the back cover, but it's there for good reason. It jumped out at me the most).

Chiko is a Burmese boy who wants to be a teacher. His father is a doctor who has instilled in him a love of learning. However his father is seized by the government for treating "a leader of the freedom and democracy movement" (pg. 8) and declared an "enemy of the state." Chiko must now be even more careful read his beloved books in private. Chiko is later forced into the Burmese army. He is a city boy who loves peace and he's completely out of shape. He has a lot to learn, things he can't learn from books. Tu Reh is a Karenni boy who hates all Burmese people after Burmese soldiers destroyed his family's farm. His family had to flew to a refugee camp near Thailand. Tu Reh is ready and willing to fight against the Burmese, to him, they are not human beings.

The Burmese government wants to get rid of ethnic minorities, like the Karenni. They brainwash Burmese citizens into believing all ethnic minorities are evil and therefore must be kicked out of Burma. I've heard of Aung San Suu Kyi but I didn't know much about her and very little about Burma (also known as Myanmar). Yet another eye opening book by Mitali Perkins. She explains the reasoning behind the conflict in a way that all readers can understand without talking down to her young readers. She has created unforgettable characters, thus making sure you will not forget the story and the plight of Burma. I liked both boys, but Chiko was my favorite (why didn't he listen to his mother early on??). This might be because the reader spends more time with Chiko. I'm not exactly sure but I felt like more chapters were devoted to Chiko, which was fine with me. I also fell in love with Tai, I wanted to meet him and receive the honor of being his friend. He's funny, brave and without him Chiko might not have survived. I also wanted to meet and become friends with Ree Meh, a Karenni girl that Tu Reh befriends. She's stubborn and fiercely independent, so she might not want to be friends at first ;) Actually, I wanted to meet all these characters.

When I did my New Crayons post, I mentioned that I feared being depressed by the story because both boys are essentially child soldiers (Burma has the largest number of child soldiers). It's an important story to be told, but I always feel helpless when I read these sort of stories. I was wrong. This story does not ask for pity, instead it merely seeks to inform you. To let you know that there are tragic events happening outside your own little bubble, but people are surviving. It is a story is filled with hope and humor, it's an uplifting tale of friendship and tolerance. In fact, pity on the person who does not read this book and get to meet such wonderful characters and learn about the resilient people. As a bonus, the book includes ways we can help so at least I feel useful. The story never becomes tedious and characters are slowly but surely changing for the better.

Bamboo People is a lot like the bamboo that the people of Burma represent; it has multiple purposes. The story entertains, uplifts and educates. It is a story that will leave an impact on you, whether you realize it or not. I couldn't help but wonder if Chiko and Tu Reh would have been friends, we will never really know due to the fact that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Both boys start off letting their circumstances shape them, but they soon learn to take their future into their own hands. I was transported to Burma and learned not only about the causes of the war and the trials of living there but also the smaller things like the clothing, food and the outward differences between the Burmese and the Karenni (most Karenni are Christians whereas the Burmese are Buddhists). What I really want to know is why did the U.S. only just allow the Karenni to enter the U.S. in 2009? An absolute must read for everyone, it reminds us, once again, that literature teaches tolerance.

Disclosure: Received from April at Good Books & Good Wine. She even got it autographed for me at BEA :D Thank you x infinity April and thank you for signing it Mitali!

Ways to Help: Text Burma to 20222 and you've donated $5. It's that simple. If you have more money to spare, $50 can help 5 people. You know what just visit the website Mitali created to go with the book, The website is fantastic, it includes ways you can help, discussion guides and more information about the Burmese and Karenni people. Please donate if you can, I don't have $50 to spare but I did text Burma. Let me know if you donated too :)

PS I wanted to share this line because I thought it was adorable "The familiar dimple in Mother's left cheek deepens. Father used to say that he tumbled into it when he first saw her and never climbed back out." (pg.8) All together now, one, two, three! "Awwwww"


  1. I got this at BEA (signed!) and I look forward to reading it this month!

  2. I reviewed this for a publication earlier, and posted it on my blog today!
    Great review--I like the parallel you've drawn between the versatility of bamboo and the book itself. And btw, I had a similar reaction to the characters--I liked Chiko more than Tu Reh. From my review: "I found myself drawn in particular to Chiko, whose glasses and fondness for books make him an easy target in a hyper-aggressive military culture. Perkins knows how to make us care about her characters, and we easily identify with a boy who loves The Lord of the Rings and nurses a not-so-secret crush on the girl next door — and just happens to be a reluctant Burmese soldier."
    Both characters are nicely done, but Chiko stayed with me long after I finished reading. In fact, just like Asha in Secret Keeper :)

  3. I liked Chiko better as well, and I like how the author focuses on friendship (between Chiko and Tai and between Tu Reh and Chiko--a universal theme that helps young readers relate to a story set in a different culture. Here in Albany, we have a growing community of refugees from Burma, so the book is especially timely. I posted a review recently on the online edition of the daily newspaper, the Times Union:…together/1715/

    I also liked how she depicted the Christian beliefs of the Karenni. Officially, 4% of Burma's population is Christian and 4% Muslim, but unofficial estimates are 30% for Christians and Muslims together, who face persecution from military authorities. And when the Buddhist monks protested in 2008, they too were brutally repressed. There wasn't a lot of information in the novel about Theravada Buddhism, the faith tradition of Chiko's family and the majority of Burmese (just that he didn't want to go live in the temple because he felt obliged to support his mother), but there's more on her web site, I think.

  4. I wish Aung San Suu Kyi was finally allowed full freedom. I remember reading a big article about her and her late husband who died of cancer. She wasn't even allow to say good bye to him - the government of Myanmar didn't let him enter the country and visit his wife in her house arrest.

  5. I loved this book and you did a spectacular job of reviewing it! Bravo!

  6. I had just recently heard of this book and now I want to read it! Thank you for a great review

  7. What an honor that your blog anniversary includes a review of my book! Thank you, Ari! So glad you're in the kidlitosphere.

  8. Yay! I am so happy you liked Bamboo People! Also, it was totally not a problem to send you a copy. :-)

    I read this on the 4th and agree with you on Chiko. AND thought it was awesome how much he liked LoTR.

  9. Burma is such a missing spot in my knowledge, so this sounds like a good book to read to try to educate myself. If you fancy an adult novel you might also like 'The Lizard Cage' by Karen Connoley (think that's her second name) which is about political prisoners in Burma (although it is quite violent and distressing at times).

  10. @Lenore-Congrats on getting it signed! I'll be looking for your review :)

    @Niranjana-Saw your review and comment :) I wonder what you will think of Climbing the Stairs. I seem to be one of the few who didn't really like it. Agree completely Chiko will stay with me probably longer than Tu Reh (although I've never read LOtR and I couldn't get through the movies).

    @Lyn-there were great friendships in this book. I wonder how many Burmese people we have in Chicago. I wouldn't know but I would be interested to find out. I really liked how we slowly learned things about the culture of Burma so naturally. It wasn't forced. Off to read your review :)

    @anachronist-That's terrible. Gahh. Books like these make me bemoan how cruel we humans can be. I don't know much about Aung San Suu Kyi, I've only heard of her and a bit about her situation.

    @Rasco-Thank you :)

    @Helen-My pleasure and thank you!

    @Mitali-Thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to comment. Your active presence in the kidlitosphere is quite helpful and insiring =)

    @April-Seriously, thank you so much. I don't expect things like that. I really do need to read LOtR, I couldn't get into the movies but maybe I should try the books. I'll look for your review.

    @Jodie-I agree and understand. I learned a lot about Burma becauase I really didn't know what was going on there. Hmm at the moment I can't take violence and depressing novels, but I will keep the title in mind. Thank you for the suggestion.


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