fiction, poetry, young adult
Reviewed by: Carrie Byrd
Review posted: 4/2/04
Although epic poetry has been left to the past, Karen Hesse has revived the idea of poetry as narrative and given it new life. Hesse won a Newbery for her narrative poetry with Out of the Dust, and she uses that same superior skill in Aleutian Sparrow. The book tells the story of Vera, an Aleutian girl learning to balance tradition with change. Her world is disrupted when the Japanese attack the islands the Aleutians are relocated to camps, supposedly for their own good.
Written in blank verse, the language is spare and lyrical. Hesse does not bother to talk down to her young audience, choosing instead to give them a challenge to live up to. Hesse clearly has high expectations from her readers, and this allows her to present a book that is enjoyable for adults as well as young people.
This is a sensitive and under explored period of American history. Although Pearl Harbor is the best-known attack to happen on American soil, it was not the only one, and the assault on the Aleutians is a forgotten story. Deftly and intelligently handled, Aleutian Sparrow does a good job of presenting an honest view of what might be deemed a dark period in our history. Despite the fact that Hesse is writing for a younger group, she does not pull any punches. Indeed, she allows the story to delve deeply into the sometimes brutally depressing lives of the Aleutian refugees. On the other hand, Hesse is careful not to lay blame. Through the eyes of Vera, the girl who acts as the narrator we see every aspect of this story, pleasant and unpleasant.
We are presented with a cast of characters, sympathetic, likable and friendly. The kind of people we would want to know. Even the so-called bad guys are presented sympathetically. Hesse has chosen to explore a complicated series of issues in this story, and she doesn't hesitate to believe her audience can follow all of the complications she presents them with.
Aleutian Sparrow is written in as straightforward a manner as it is possible to do with poetry. Hesse has full command of the language and it is a beautiful thing. If youíre a poetry lover, this book will affirm your faith. If youíre not, try it anyway. This isnít just poetry done well, this is writing done well, and it would be a shame to miss it.