Journey of Dreams

Journey of DreamsJourney of Dreams by Marge Pellegrino. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2009. 256 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 11 and older. ISBN: 9781845079642.

Tomasa lives with her mama and papa, her older brother Carlos, her younger brother Manuelito , her baby sister Maria and her grandmother in the stunningly beautiful Guatemalan Highlands. It’s 1984. Her life is simple and happy until the soldiers come. They start by taking away her friend Hector and almost taking her brother Carlos before they realize he is too young for the Army. Planes spray insecticide which makes the villagers sick and mama complains. After that, someone throws a threatening note into the family’s house. It’s aimed at mama. Mama and Carlos leave to get away from the soldiers. The rest of the family stays and hopes that things will get better and mama and Carlos will be able to return. Instead things get much worse. On the night papa, Tomasa, Manuelito and Maria leave the soldiers violence throws the village into chaos. One of the soldier’s bullets kills Abuela. This view of life under a brutal regime determined to do away with its indigenous population is filtered through Tomasa’s narrative and her 13-year-old understanding of the situation.

Papa and the children head first to Guatamala City, but they are warned on the outskirts that the city is not safe. They turn North and head towards Mexico, hoping all the time that somewhere they will find mama and Carlos. Their attempts to cross the river between Guatemala and Mexico with the aid of a coyote are horrendous.

In Mexico City they find a safe house and also news of mama and Carlos. They are in Phoenix, Arizona. People from the Sanctuary Movement in the United States help the family to cross into Arizona and be reunited with mama and Carlos.

The story is taut, especially as the family tries to cross the river. The political and human reality is very grim. As I remember, the reality was very grim for me as an adult at the time. Tomasa’s narrative tells us the part of reality she is able to handle. Her dreams tell us a bit more about the terror she feels. She never loses hope. She never lets her baby sister lose hope. She tries to help her brother with his resentment towards mama for leaving them.

There’s an excellent “About the Story” note in the back of the book, followed by this section is followed by a glossary and a map I referred to more than once.

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Georgia McBride
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Marge Pellegrino’s Author Site.

Jackson Browne singing “Lives in the Balance,” a popular song from the 1980s. It addresses the politics in the US much more than “Journey of Dreams” does, but it also addresses politics in countries that turn on their own citizens.


The Other Side of Truth

The Other Side of TruthThe Other Side of Truth by Beverley Naidoo. HarperTrophy (an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers), 2000. 272 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 8-12. ISBN: 9780064410021.

Carnegie Medal winner, 2000

Sade lives in Nigeria with her mother, her brother Femi and her father. Her father is a journalist publishing truths the military dictatorship would prefer were not known. One morning as Sade packs her books into her backpack while her mother waits outside to drive her to school, Sade hears gunshots. Her mother has been shot dead by soldiers, with bullets intended for her father. A decision is made that Sade and her brother will leave Nigeria immediately and go to London to stay with their uncle. Their father will follow as soon as possible. Sade and Femi leave Nigeria under assumed names and enter Great Britain under those names. When they arrive, their uncle is nowhere to be found and the woman who smuggled them into the country leaves them on their own. They enter the foster care system in London, using their own first names but their mother’s maiden name as their last name. Sade believes it is safer both for herself and her brother and for their father if their real last names are not known.

The politics of the Nigerian police state figure prominently in the first part of the book. After that, the focus shifts to the politics of being a political refugee seeking asylum in England. Sade has difficulty with bullies at her school in London. This echoes the bullying of the Nigerian government and perhaps makes that government bullying easier for middle grade students to understand. The English government does some bullying of its own towards the end of the book, and Sade figures out how to let people know what the government is doing so it will stop. She has learned the importance of publicizing from her father.

The book is fiction, but it is not far off from events in Nigeria. In 1995 Ken Saro-Wiwa, a journalist and activist critical of the Nigerian government, was hanged by the government. His activities and his fate are mentioned multiple times in the book.

Sade experiences horrors in this novel. I had a hard time feeling the horrors. Sade’s emotional life seems distant to me. I think this is because it’s told more than shown. But it may be because Sade must keep her emotional life distant from herself in order to survive.

The Other Side of Truth is an excellent way to learn about the political life of Nigeria in the 1990s and about the life of a political refugee in London.

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Amy Reads
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