The Light in the Forest. Recently, our class read another that falls into this category: Red Midnight by Ben Mikaelsen.
Red Midnight is the harrowing tale of Santiago, a 12-year-old Guatemalan survivor of the 1980s civil war and his desperate trip with his 4-year-old sister Angelina across the Gulf of Mexico to try to reach the shore of the United States. It details how Santiago and Angelina escapes the soldiers to get to his uncle's cayuco and attempt to fight the ocean's terrors for the promise of a safe and better life. Santiago is forced to grow up literally overnight as he sees things that no child should ever see and takes over responsibility for his little sister, the only other survivor of his family. Through pirates, manure trucks, sharks, tropical storms, starvation, exposure, and the terrors of their war-torn country, Santiago and Angelina play the "game" of staying alive so that one day they can tell the world what has happened to their village and their country.
Personally, I did not enjoy reading the book, but that's just because it's not the kind of book I normally enjoy. The first few chapters were really hard for me to push through. It is difficult, as a mother of small children, for me to read books or stories about suffering children. I realize these things are real and these stories should be told - but that doesn't mean it's enjoyable for me. It's also a journey and adventure book, and those things just don't tend to interest me much.
Having said that, Red Midnight is still an excellent book. Mikaelsen is an author I have come to respect tremendously for his books that appeal to a younger male audience. His stories not only capture his intended audience, but they manage to bring important lessons into the mix without losing the integrity of the story. Oftentimes young adult books are either purely entertaining with no character-building qualities, or they teach lessons but come off so cheesy that no self-respecting 13-year-old boy would be caught dead reading it. Mikaelsen is a writer that can do both. After researching him, I can see that much of this is due to his life experiences; check out his website here for more information.
What's more, this book opened my eyes to a piece of history about which I knew very little: the Guatemalan Civil War. Americans should be more educated on this matter, considering our role in the conflict. Those soldiers that raped Santiago's mother and cut the legs off his best friend were being funded by out own government in the name of "fighting communism" - but the truth is, most of the 200,000 people killed during the war had never heard of communism. They were just trying to live their lives. When their lives went up in flames, many of them did what Santiago attempted to do - make their way to the safety of the United States. I already had some pretty strong (and admittedly liberal, especially for someone as right-wing as I am) opinions about the US immigration problem, but this book only helped to confirm my belief that we are as responsible as the immigrants for the crisis. Why are these people trying to make their way here in the first place? Because WE had a hand in making their countries uninhabitable. Santiago has no ideas about passports and immigration papers. He is just trying to survive and ensure the survival of his sister. So is it wrong for him to make for the US, the one place he has been told he will be safe? It's a question worth asking.
I would not choose to reread Red Midnight, but I would recommend it - and other Mikaelsen books - for young male readers...or teachers of young male readers looking for a good read.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
What's up next: Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge
Top Five TBR:
1. The Confessions of Catherine Medici by C.W. Gortner
2. To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick
3. Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert
4. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
5. Erasing Hell by Francis Chan