Review - Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): He's a Pirate by Klaus Badelt [Pirates of the Carribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl soundtrack] .

My reviews are a bit different than most. As an undercover superhero (ordinary girl extraordinaire), my purpose is to try and uncover hidden gems lost from the familiar radar. Because of this, I have set up some guidelines for myself (just like the pirate code). :)

I will focus on YA and Children's literature (with very rare exceptions).
I will not review any book that is one of the top 25,000 selling books (based on Amazon ranks).
I will try and aim for books 100,000 or larger.
I will review recent books or books of great merit (preferably both).

Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins
Published: July 1, 2010
Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing
Pages: 272
Current Amazon Rank: #446,751

Author's Website:

The First Line:

Teachers wanted. Applicants must take examinations in person. Salaries start at---
"Chiko, come inside!" Mother calls through the screen door, her voice low and urgent.

My Take:
This book is probably one of the best reads I've come across this year. It is haunting and beautiful at once, full of courage and strength and as a glimpse into modern-day Burma, it is eye-opening.

The story tells two different sides of the same story. The first is of Chiko, a studious Burmese boy who must be kept inside for fear of his own government kidnapping him and drafting him into service. His father has already been arrested for helping "the enemy" and they know nothing of his whereabouts, even though they are required to send in a monthly allowance to support him, and they are not sure if he is still alive and if the government is only lying to them. Deceived by a newspaper advertisement, Chiko is indeed taken without warning to a remote jungle location to be trained to fight the "barbaric" Karenni, one of the many ethnic minorities in Burma.

There he finds a friend in Tai, a street boy also taken, who is desperate to get back to his sister. They train together and help each other survive in ways they could not on their own. Chiko is then drafted to go on a "secret mission" into the jungle--as a mine tester. The story then switches to Tu Reh's perspective, a Karenni boy barely older than Chiko and filled with hatred for what the Burmese has done to his people. Here the two stories converge.

It is a very difficult thing having multiple perspectives in a story. Often you become attached to one character and could care less about the other and only suffer through their chapters to get back to your favorite. That is not the case here. Having been thoroughly invested in Chiko for half the book, it is a brilliant stroke on Ms. Perkins part to reintroduce Chiko the moment the perspective's shift instead of going "back to the beginning" to tell Tu Reh's story. You pick it up seamlessly as the story progresses. And I can see the importance in the character shift. You needed to hear both sides of this story. Both of them grow in great ways and therin lies Mitali Perkins' greatest strength. Her characters are complex and real. Even the side characters had a depth to them that made me feel like I truly understood them (and I have to admit, I was completely in love with Tai's character. He was awesome). Even the love stories on both Chiko's and Tu Reh's parts were lovely. And her descriptions of the world draw you in. The details of the humidity, the fruits and plants, the threats from the jungle, everything. It felt like you were there with them, and I loved that.

Overall, a wonderful read I would highly recommend.

The Final Word: Simple, courageous, and beautiful, this book is one I won't lightly forget. It helps open your world and leaves you changed.


christina said...

What do you mean 100,00 or more? Like words? 'Cuz pages would just be crazy. :))

Heather Zundel said...

#100,000 or above based on amazon bestselling numbers. So basically, how much it is getting ordered. It changes hourly, but it is still a rough estimate of how popular a title is.