The Day My Father Became a Bush by Joke van Leeuwen
Toda lives with her father and grandmother. Her mother left them years earlier and went to a neighboring country. Now Toda’s father has gone to be a soldier in a war. Toda discovers that he has learned how to become a bush, so that he will not be shot. At first Toda stays with her grandmother in their family bakery, but that soon becomes too dangerous. Her grandmother sends her off to her mother, but Toda must make a dangerous journey with strangers to cross the border. Though her grandmother has made plans, they go awry along the way and Toda must navigate much of the border crossing on her own. Even once she is across the border, she doesn’t know where her mother is and how she will ever locate her. This is a story told from a child’s view of war and being a refugee.
With such an unusual title, I wasn’t sure what this book was going to be about. It was surprising to find myself in a book about war. Even more amazing to find that it was a book filled with humor. Van Leeuwen has written a book with a wild sense of humor but even more importantly a very unique point of view. Toda sees the world in her own special way, often misunderstanding what adults around her are trying to say. This gets her into all sorts of adventures along the way.
With such a grim subject of a child refugee separated from all those who love her and continuing forward on her own, one would expect it to be frightening. It certainly is at times, yet the grim reality is held at bay much of the time through Toda’s optimism about what is going to happen to her. There are still moments where the reader is unsure of what is going to happen next and whether Toda is going to be severely injured if not killed. Those moments are handled with the same frank and open attitude as the more silly moments. Together they form the fabric of the story, one that is harrowing but also incredible.
Completely unique, this book features a fresh and noteworthy point of view that comes from a young survivor who has no idea how very brave she is. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Gecko Press.