|Illustration from “Up Tunket Road’’ by Philip Ackerman-Leist. (Erin Ackerman-Leist)|
“Bamboo People’’ (Charlesbridge) is a coming-of-age novel set in Burma, a highly repressive nation with an extraordinary number of child-soldiers. Author Mitali Perkins, born in India, raised in California, and now living in Newton, is well aware of the challenge involved in drawing Americans into the lives of people so far away. She herself was drawn to the story of Burma when she visited refugee camps along the border of Thailand. Though her author’s note makes it clear that she wants people of all ages to understand what’s going on there, her novel is first and foremost a compelling story.
It opens with a young boy named Chiko indulging in what the Burmese government considers a suspicious activity: reading a book in English. Chiko’s father has been taken away by soldiers. He and his mother, struggling to survive, don’t know whether the government has imprisoned or killed him. Chiko, desperate to help his mother, decides to take a government test to become a teacher. Yet the call for teaching applicants is a ruse, and he is forced into the army, being put to a test like no other.
Meanwhile, Tu Reh is living in a refugee camp on the Thai border. He is consumed by anger at the Burmese soldiers who burned his home and the bamboo fields of the Karenni people, one of the oppressed ethnic minorities in Burma. In the friendship that develops between the two boys lies a kernel of hope for the future of Burma.
Porter Square Books in Cambridge will host Perkins at a launch party for “Bamboo People’’ at 7 p.m. Thursday. Burmese refreshments will be served.
Ackerman-Leist’s new book, “Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader’’ (Chelsea Green), is a chronicle of the couple’s adventures in sustainability and a meditation on the future of homesteading.
Director of the Farm & Food Project at Green Mountain College, Ackerman-Leist doesn’t pretend to have all the answers. He acknowledges that there may not be enough land to go around for every potential homesteader. From one of his students he learns about a young man living on a boat in Manhattan, burning driftwood and scrap lumber in his woodstove and generating electricity with a wind turbine. Is this the future? Ackerman-Leist wonders.
Meanwhile, he and his wife are consumed with a big question concerning the present: Is Internet access at home a pleasure or a plague?
■ “Crossfire’’ by Dick Francis and Felix Francis (Putnam)
■ “Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope’’ by Chalmers Johnson (Metropolitan)
Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com.