WOW Review: Forced Journeys
Frequently used as a metaphor for life’s pathways, a journey may be defined as physical or psychological journeys, journeys of discovery, growth, or change in the natural world or as journeys in a socio-cultural context. While some journeys are approached with great anticipation, our focus in this particular issue of WOW Review is on “Forced Journeys.” This kind of journey does not always indicate a negative outcome although it does reflect a challenge that requires time, strength, and a critical stance from its participants. The reviews in this issue cut across a variety of contexts within which the characters are forced along pathways, physically and mentally, as the result of political, social, cultural, and ideological movements or change.
Physical journeys, often imposed by political conflict and struggles for power, have forced people from their homes such as in Shades of Grey that tells of the 1939 forced journey of Lithuanians to Siberia by Russia—a WWII story not often known. A Half Spoon of Rice, A Survival Story of the Cambodian Genocide, relates in picture book format yet another political event in which people were forced from their homes to labor in fields. A Long Walk to Water and A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk share the context of the Sudanese brutal civil war that displaced and separated families and sent thousands of young boys, the Lost Boys of Sudan, on a journey for survival that lasted several years. Such political conflicts can also force individuals on journeys of fear and racism, such as in Child of Dandelions, the story of two Ugandan girls who find they are on opposite sides politically and ethnically when Idi Amin takes political control. The Island depicts the fear and racism that accompanies such journeys within the other books reviewed in this issue. This story is told as a fable that reveals the barriers created by fear and racism.
From North to South relates the all-to-familiar journey for many in the United States–the journey across the Mexican/US border. In this story a journey is forced on the mother of a family by authorities when she cannot produce her immigration papers. The focus of this picture book is the journey across the border by the children and family to the place where she is being held. Physically forced away from their homes to schools that mentally impose ideologies and life styles on Native children, Fatty Legs: A True Story and A Stranger at Home: A True Story relate the life experiences of one young Arctic Indigenous child whose life is forever changed in the boarding school years of her life. Not all children departing from their homes do so because of injustice. Written in the voice of a young girl, I Know Here is based on the depth of the loss she is experiencing due to a family move. Her “forced journey” will resonate with readers who have also had to move and leave familiar places.
Forced journeys can be the result of ideologies and expectations imposed on all within a group. In some situations, the powerful efforts to suppress individuality are more than an individual can take, such as in I Am Thomas where a teen, amidst the voices of those who cannot accept him for who he is, is forced to embark on a physical journey to escape the voices that have created tension in his life. At times, the forced journeys are one’s own life choices, decisions that require one to undertake new ways of thinking and expectations for a new role. In Five Flavors of Dumb, the journey of a group of young people who have formed a band, embark on their journey for success led by a deaf girl.
This issue of WOW Review is a reminder of the many varied forced journeys in our global society that are evidence of the strength and resiliency of young people whose challenges will resonate with those who read these books. These titles offer many insights and potential discussions that focus on social justice throughout the globe and on the role of culture and ideologies in social contexts at many levels. They also leave readers contemplating the social responsibility of compassion and support for those whose forced journeys have thrust them into our communities and lives. Such awareness for learners of all ages is critical at a time where refugees daily cross borders, people of all ages seek acceptance of their beliefs and individuality, and children are situated in a mobile society where change brings about new journeys.