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Book Review

Bamboo People: A Novel by Mitali Perkins has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Chiko and Tu Reh are teen boys living in modern-day Burma on opposing sides of civil conflict. Fifteen-year-old Chiko narrates the first half of the story. He is a peace-loving young man who likes books and wants to be a teacher. His physician father is in prison, accused of being a traitor to the government. Chiko cares for his mother and sister until the Burmese army forces him into service to battle the Karenni rebels. Chiko keeps prized pictures of his father and his beloved neighbor girl, Lei, in his pocket at all times.

In the army camp, he and other young men are trained, forced into labor and mistreated. He meets another boy, Tai, who is even more militantly opposed to the government’s behavior than he is. Tai plans to escape because he’s worried about his sister. The two are orphans, and there is no one to care for her now that he’s gone.

Since Chiko can write, he bribes a driver to take a message to his mother. He asks her to find Tai’s sister and bring her into their home. Chiko and Tai become friends and help each other survive. When Chiko’s supervising officer learns the boy can read and write, he makes him his clerk.

Chiko uses his position to learn his father is alive and determine his whereabouts. He also teaches Tai to read and write, which saves Tai from having to embark on a dangerous mission. Chiko ends up on the mission, as the person who goes before the troops to check for landmines. He is severely injured and abandoned by his fellow soldiers.

At this point, Tu Reh takes over the narration. He is a 16-year-old Karenni rebel. He and his people live in a camp, since government soldiers burned their homes. His parents have seen him becoming more angry and hostile, so his father tries to focus him by including him on a mission. They are bringing aid and supplies to resistance members in the jungle when they find the injured Chiko.

Tu Reh wants to shoot him and put him out of his misery, but his father, Peh, urges him to think through his choice. Peh cleans and binds Chiko’s wounds. He tells Tu Reh that a man filled with hatred is like a gun. He can be used for only one purpose, to kill. Peh notes people can use bamboo for a variety of things. He says he plans to stay like the bamboo so he can be used for many purposes. Tu Reh reluctantly takes Chiko to a Karenni healer rather than completing the mission with Peh.

A grandfather and his two granddaughters live in a hidden area of the jungle. The younger of the granddaughters, Nya Meh, is a healer who has learned medicine and techniques from the Burmese during her time in captivity. The older, Ree Meh, is closer to Tu Reh’s age.

The family takes in the nearly dead Chiko with compassion. Nya Meh calls him “brother” as she works to bind up his wounds. She recognizes one of his legs may require amputation and says they need to get him to a more experienced healer in Tu Reh’s camp. Once again, Tu Reh is annoyed to have to help the enemy soldier.

When they discover government soldiers are following them, Tu Reh takes the family and Chiko back to camp with him. Many of his people are angry that he’s brought an enemy into their camp, and people argue about what to do with “Tu Reh’s solider.”

Tu Reh’s former best friend, Sa Reh, is one of the most hostile voices opposing Chiko’s presence. But as Tu Reh gets to know Chiko, he recognizes the boy isn’t so different from him. Tu Reh spends time with Ree Meh, who also encourages him to advocate for Chiko.

Sa Reh likes Nya Meh and speaks to her often. When Tu Reh and Sa Reh fight about which of them will take care of the girls, Nya Meh has flashbacks to the time she suffered horrific treatment at the hands of government soldiers. When the boys realize what their behavior has done to Nya Meh, they reconcile and spend all night completing a hut for the girls.

The leaders of Tu Reh’s camp hold a hearing about what to do with Chiko and how to punish Tu Reh for bringing him there. The grandfather and Tu Reh urge the community to be better, more compassionate people than the soldiers who destroyed their homes. Their impassioned pleas help the people remember their values, and the Karenni permit Chiko to get the treatment he needs. He is given a prosthetic leg from one knee down.

Chiko thanks the girls and tells Tu Reh that he hopes he will see him again someday. Both boys have come to understand that their enemy consists of human beings with families and unique stories. Chiko worries how his family and Lei will treat him when he returns. They are thrilled to see him alive. His prosthetic leg doesn’t change the way they feel about him, and they’re excited to give him the news that his father will soon return home.

Christian Beliefs

Chiko’s family owns a Bible, along with books of Buddha’s teachings and Shakespeare’s works. Peh says God will show Tu Reh the way regarding how to help the enemy soldier. Nya Meh says God can bring goodness and beauty out of anything, even her captivity. Ree Meh prays Nya Meh will someday be able to talk about her traumatic experiences.

The Karenni people mention God and prayer a number of times. The girls’ grandfather talks about the Holy Book, which he carries in his backpack. He reads Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 aloud, and it appears in the text. Tu Reh knows the part he’s supposed to hear is that there is a time to kill and a time to heal.

A Karenni pastor leads a Bible reading before the hearing starts. When defending Chiko, Grandfather says the Book tells them how they should treat an enemy. He reminds them that God commands people to defend all who are weak, not just those of their own kind. He says giving way to hatred makes them no better than their enemies. Ree Meh talks about a generous missionary from Europe who has brought them supplies. She says Nya Meh would say they owe their lives to God.

Other Belief Systems

Chiko’s mother urges him to join the temple or become a Buddhist monk to avoid persecution. In training camp, Chiko recalls chants Buddhist monks used to ward off evil. The army captain commanding Chiko complains that the Karenni people have turned away from Burma’s Buddhist faith and embraced the teachings of Western religions in hopes of gaining weapons from Americans.

Authority Roles

Chiko’s and Tu Reh’s fathers are wise men who value humanity. Their behavior influences their sons to make moral choices. The leaders at the army camp belittle and hurt the soldiers who have been forced into service. The girls’ grandfather speaks boldly about his faith in God and urges his people to show mercy to their enemies.

Profanity/Violence

Soldiers in the army training camp often brutally assault trainees, sometimes kicking or hitting and sometimes beating them with bamboo switches. Tai is unjustly punished with solitary confinement. A soldier crushes Chiko’s glasses and demands he never wear them again.

Chiko’s leg is bent at a strange angle with splintered bone poking out after a landmine hits him. Tu Reh says many boys his age are missing limbs and eyes due to the fighting. The text does not specify how Nya Meh was tortured at the hands of Burmese soldiers, but Tu Reh says everyone knows what Burmese soldiers do to Karenni girls.

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

None

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

9 to 13

Author

Mitali Perkins

Cast

Director

Distributor

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

Charlesbridge Publishing

Released

On Video

Year Published

2012

Awards

YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2011; Notable Books for a Global Society, 2011 and others

Reviewer

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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