Written entirely in free-verse poetry, Caminar, the debut novel from Skila Brown is the story of Carlos and the remote Guatemalan village he called home. Caught in the midst of the Guatemala’s brutal 36-year civil war, Carlos must learn how to survive after everything he knows is wrenched away from him. Part coming-of-age story, part historical fiction, Caminar offers a lyrical glimpse into rural Guatemala’s troubled past and one boy’s ability to say, “I remember.”
Caminar was a fairly short read - I believe I read it in less than an hour – but it was impactful, nonetheless. I think that is a sign of good poetry – the ability to make an impact in very few words.
My favorite part of the book came when Carlos was remembering his town and he remembered even where the puddles would form when it would rain. I felt that the placement of puddles is something each of us stores subconsciously, with a bit of fondness, though we don’t recognize it’s fondness until Skila Brown tells us so. Brown’s ability to make an observation as mundane as this a sweet and endearing memory is a testament to her skill as a poet. This book is riddled with succinct little observations such as this.
I was surprised to learn that Brown is not Guatemalan and does not speak Spanish well (as admitted by the author herself in the back of the book). She seems very invested in Guatemalan culture and I found no evidence in the book that she was not a fluent speaker of Spanish. There are a few Spanish idioms and phrases sprinkled throughout the book, but I, with my tenuous grasp on the Spanish language, was able to understand most of them without the help of the glossary in the back.
I enjoyed this book, but I wish it was a bit longer. It was well-written and informative, but it just didn’t feel like enough to me. I think that part of this feeling might be stemming from the fact that most of the action in the story takes place over the course of a few days.
I honestly did not know that this was intended to be a “middle-grade novel” until I got to the section at the back with questions and answers from the author. This appendix definitely read as something for someone younger, but, the rest of the novel is ageless.
Buy Caminar March 25, 2014 in hardcover from Candlewick Press and Amazon.