Author: Alma Fullerton
Publication Year: 2008
Genre: Fiction, Verse
Source: A school library
From the cover:
When a freak accident kills their mother, Libertad and his little brother Julio are no longer safe living on their own near the Guatemala City Dump. Libertad knows that surviving by their wits alone won’t be enough to send his brother to school or give them any hope for the future. There is only one thing to do. Earning their way as street musicians, they will set out on the long and dangerous journey to the Rio Grand River, where they will somehow find a way to cross into the United States and find their father.
Right from the beginning, I really started to feel for the narrator of the story, who shares the name of the book – Libertad. You could tell that he was really hurting – he lived with his mother and his little brother in the city dump in Guatemala, but before that, they had been driven from their village by soldiers, shortly after their father went away to go to the United States. It was just so much to befall one young man, never mind the whole family – your heart just ached for them when you read the details of their existence in the dump.
The “freak accident” mentioned on the book cover doesn’t happen until a fair bit into the story, so you actually get to know the characters – Libertad, Julio, and their mother – fairly well as a unit before they’re torn apart. I think that helps the reader to really get engaged with the story of Libertad and Julio’s journey later on the book – you want them to succeed, you want their hardships to end.
Fullerton really found a way to make the story interesting and believable to readers, even those like me who know next to nothing about Guatemala or about what it would be like to illegally immigrate through Mexico into Texas, or what it’s like to live in a garbage dump or on the streets. There was just a gut response that I got to this book, that I could feel a bit of what it was like for them, and I wanted everything to be alright.
I usually find it a bit hard to get into novels written in verse, but I didn’t have that problem with Libertad. It helped me to get inside the head of Libertad, to understand the choices he made and the struggles he experienced. The style was inobtrusive – yes, it was written in verse, but generally the fact that it was in verse wasn’t the focal point of the narrative.
That’s the way I like it; novels in verse form can be great for some reluctant readers, since it breaks up the narrative into manageable chunks and there’s more white space on the page, making it less intimidating. Libertad is definitely a book that I would recommend to my students – it was a heartfelt story, told by someone they can relate to, about their personal struggles, and it was told in a way that would appeal to readers and pull them into the story.
- 20/13+ for the Canadian Book Challenge 4