Thursday, April 21, 2016

Hidden Roots (by Joseph Bruchac)

Title:  Hidden Roots

Author:  Joseph Bruchac

Target Age: Middle Grade – Young Adult (YA)

Summary from Publisher
As hard as they try, 11-year-old Sonny and his mother can’t predict his father’s sudden rages, which can turn physical in an instant.  Jake’s anger only gets worse after long days laboring at the local paper mill—and when Uncle Louis appears.  Louis seems to show up when Sonny and his mother need help most, but there is something about him and his quiet, wise ways that only fuels Jake’s rage.  The love of Sonny’s fragile mother, the support and protection of his Uncle Louis, and an unexpected friendship with a librarian help Sonny gain the confidence to stand up to his father.

Joseph Bruchac is a beautiful storyteller. He builds sympathy and a connection with his young protagonist immediately. There is a fog hiding and foreshadowing the family secrets that tantalizes, prompting me to keep reading to find out everything.  I also wanted to make sure Sonny and his mom were going to be safe.  His father’s temper is a bit scary (definitely may be for younger readers). However, this area is tempered for the target audience (11-14). There is nothing especially graphic.  As the novel progresses, the father gains more control over himself and uses better coping mechanism for his anger.

Hidden Roots is heavily character driven.  Sonny grapples with common issues like feeling isolated at school, coping with heavy family issues, and dealing with a parent being out of work. He finds books can be an escape from many of the difficulties. Sonny matures, slowing moving into the adult realm.  Though he is only 11, he begins working to help his family--both at home with the chores and outside of it to help with the finances. He must deal with his family's hidden roots and secrets.  

Sonny’s father is distant—physically and emotionally.  His father is away working long hours.  Even when he is home, he does not know how to connect with his son.  Uncle Louis though steps in as a vital father figure. The sense there is something more in the relationship is hinted at and comes out fully in the end.  (I am not going to spoil it.)  His mother is the least developed, but she is Sonny's protector and support.  

Bruchac has a Native American heritage that plays an important role.  Uncle Louis teaches Sonny about some of their values especially as they relate to their close respect and connection to the natural world.  The most intense aspect is the revelation about eugenics being used on Native Americans and how it relates to the characters’ past. (This aspect isn't brought up until the end of the novel.)  A tension is created between a desire for some Natives to embrace who they are with fear, anger, and frustration over having to hide it to fit into society. This tension is one of the most compelling parts of the novel.

Hidden Roots is a serious realistic fiction.  The novel gives insight into love, family, and acceptance.  The language and charactization are magnificence. Though it is written through the perspective of an 11-year-old and the harsh content is tempered, I feel the book is more suited for 12 and up.  With the guidance of a teacher or parent, younger readers can also enjoy it.  It is definitely worth your time reading, especially if you want a multicultural or Native American focused book for your curriculum or home reading.

Extension Areas for Educators

  • Research eugenics as it relates to Native Americans and other people
  • Research the Trail of Tears and other ways Native Americans were removed from their lands
  • Learn about the signs of physical abuse and how to help if you see someone in need
  • Brainstorm and discuss ways to handle anger in a positive manner
  • Interview family members and research the "hidden roots" in your family tree
  • Read Native American tales about their connection to nature 
  • Take a early morning hike to watch the sun rise (Sonny does this activity with Uncle Louis)

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