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Red Midnight

Red Midnight

4.1 16
by Ben Mikaelsen

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When guerrilla soldiers strike Santiago's village, they destroy everything in their path -- including his home and family. Santiago and his four-year-old sister escape, running for their lives. But the only way they can be truly safe is to leave Guatemala behind forever. So Santiago and Angelina set sail in a sea kayak their Uncle Ramos built while dreaming of his


When guerrilla soldiers strike Santiago's village, they destroy everything in their path -- including his home and family. Santiago and his four-year-old sister escape, running for their lives. But the only way they can be truly safe is to leave Guatemala behind forever. So Santiago and Angelina set sail in a sea kayak their Uncle Ramos built while dreaming of his own escape. Sailing through narrow channels guarded by soldiers, shark-infested waters, and days of painful heat and raging storms, Santiago and Angelina face an almost impossible voyage hundreds of miles across the open ocean, heading for the hope of a new life in the United States.

Editorial Reviews

When Guatemalan soldiers attack and burn his village, Santiago and his four-year-old sister, Angelina, are the only survivors. This violent scene may startle some readers, but it also introduces them to the tragedy of Guatemala during the 1980s. Santiago's only hope is to escape Guatemala, and his only means of doing so is his Uncle Ramos' cayuco, a small sailboat. From here, the novel recounts Santiago and Angelina's arduous trip from Guatemala to the US. These two children battle hunger, storms, and sickness as they sail across the Gulf of Mexico to reach the Florida coast. Initially met with anti-immigrant hostility, a poor reflection on the US policy at the time, they are eventually granted asylum and allowed to report their family's massacre. This story is often gripping, told in the present-tense voice of Santiago as he confronts each trial. Readers will appreciate his determination and resourcefulness in the face of great danger, although they may find the occasional heavy-handed political commentary intrusive. 2002, Harper Collins, 212pp., Fairbanks
To quote KLIATT's July 2002 review of the hardcover edition: Mikaelsen (author of Touching Spirit Bear) tells a dramatic story of a 12-year-old boy and his little sister as they escape the violence in their Guatemalan village and manage to sail up the coast to take refuge in the United States. It's hard to believe Santiago is only 12 since he has the judgment and strength of a much older boy, so I don't think his age will limit the readership of this novel. The story is based on the events during the civil war in Guatemala in the 1980s, when the government forces tried to rid the country of rebels and in the process destroyed a lot of villages and killed many civilians. The book starts with the horror of Santiago's village being attacked, his parents and siblings killed before his eyes, his grabbing of his 4-year-old sister Angelina and their frantic escape. So begins the adventure. And it is quite an adventure as the children navigate their little boat, with a sail and a paddle, up the coast past Belize and the Yucatan, into the Gulf of Mexico and to the shores of America. Everything is against them: storms, pirates, you name it. This is a nonstop survival-adventure tale in the mode of Gary Paulsen's Hatchet and the like. Younger YAs will like it for that reason. It is a bit difficult to believe two children could make this voyage, and that once on the beach in the States that the immigration officials would allow them to stay. Still—suspend this disbelief and find a riveting, well-told story. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2002, HarperTrophy, 212p.,
— Claire Rosser
On the night of May 18, 1981, in the village of Dos Vias, Guatemala, twelve-year-old Santiago Cruz is awakened by his mother. "Run! They have come to kill us!" Santiago and his four-year-old sister run, hide, and watch as their parents, brothers, sister, and grandfather are slaughtered. A dying uncle tells Santiago to go to the United States to reveal what has happened. Dazed and grief-stricken, knowing that God has "turned his back on the indigenos," Santiago and Angelina flee through the jungle and eventually set sail in a small boat. After twenty-three horrendous days at sea, they wash onto the Florida shore, where English-speaking people refer to them as "stinking boat people" and tell them, "Get out of here. This is a private club." Others, however, assist them, and their incredible story becomes news. Because of the publicity, they are not deported, and Santiago finally is able to relate his terrible story of the red skies (burning huts) and brutal deaths of simple indigenous people trapped between soldiers and guerillas. An author's note states that such atrocities actually occurred in more than four hundred Guatemalan villages in the 1980s after the U.S. government, in the interest of fighting communism, provided training and weapons for Guatemalan soldiers. A poignant, gripping story of survival told simply and realistically from Santiago's point of view, this novel will hold the interest of teen readers and could become a catalyst for meaningful discussions about immigration and foreign policy. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9;Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2002, HarperCollins, 256p,
— Sherry York <%ISBN%>0380977451
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-When soldiers burn his Guatemalan village and kill his family, 12-year-old Santiago escapes with his 4-year-old sister, Angelina. Following the instructions of his dying uncle, he makes his way to Lake Izabal, where he takes his uncle's small sailing canoe and begins a terrifying journey north and across the Gulf of Mexico to Florida. The siblings face starvation and dehydration; lack of sleep; strong sun, wind, and waves; and their own fears and sorrows to win their game of Staying Alive. The present-tense narrative suggests the speech of someone whose first language is not English, and Santiago's first-person account makes the adventure even more immediate. The opening scene is memorable, as the burning of the village turns the night sky red. However, the necessary flashback to explain how a mountain boy learned rudimentary sailing and the almost unbelievable details of the children's trip between their village and their uncle's home give readers pause, rather than pulling them into the suspense of the story. At times, the anger in the author's message almost overwhelms the action. "The rich have no conscience," their uncle's friend says. The first Americans they encounter call them "stinking boat people" and tell them to go away from their private beach club. In an afterword, the author explains that the soldiers who massacred villagers were armed by the U.S. government as part of our fight against communism. Thus, we share the blame for such atrocities. In spite of the heavy-handed message, readers who persevere through the first third of the book will be rewarded with a terrific survival story.-Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In this suspenseful survival story, a 12-year-old Guatemalan boy and his 4-year-old sister escape their burning home, where soldiers have killed their family, and try to make their way to the US. Santiago, who narrates, has grown up poor in a small village of indigenous people who descended from the Mayans. He speaks some Spanish, which helps as he and Angelina make their way by horse and then as stowaways in trucks to Lake Izabal. They find their uncle's cayuco, a small kayak made from a tree, and with the help of a neighbor, set sail. The bulk of the novel takes place on water, fighting storms, evading pirates, and fishing with a homemade hook. Santiago learns as he goes, after only one day's instruction in sailing, and he improvises cleverly, as described in satisfying detail. The boy recovers from setbacks at the same time as he tries to keep Angelina's spirits up despite near starvation and constant danger. The interactions between the siblings show Santiago's courage and love, while Angelina's well-drawn, childlike personality provides moments of lightness as well as pathos. In the beginning, the narrative voice tends to be stilted, avoiding contractions and using inverted sentences such as "This I know she likes." But as the action picks up, Santiago's narration reflects the urgency of their situation as they sail, against all odds, across the Gulf of Mexico towards Florida. Mikaelsen's (Touching Spirit Bear, 2001, etc.) fans, who expect him to produce a gripping tale of overcoming dangers, will not be disappointed. (author's note) (Fiction. 11+)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
6.68(w) x 5.08(h) x 0.46(d)
690L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Soldiers in the Night

May 18, 1981
Dos Vías, Guatemala

I try to forget the night they burned my village. Those memories are like clouds in my mind. But sometimes the clouds lift, and again I hear screams and soldiers shouting and guns exploding. A dog barks. Another shot echoes, and the dog is quiet. Then there is more shouting and killing.

I remember my mother waking me that night. Fear makes her voice shake as she pushes my little sister into my arms. “Santiago, wake up!” she whispers loudly. “Run! Take Angelina with you. They have come to kill us. Run!”

And my mother is right. As I stumble barefoot toward the trees holding Angelina's hand, soldiers appear behind me. They carry torches that show their laughing faces as they run through our small village burning every home.

Our homes are very simple, with dirt floors, thatch roofs, and walls made of dried cane stalks that burn easily. When families run from the flames, the soldiers kill them. Their guns sound like machetes hitting coconuts.

In the dark, I run hard, pulling Angelina by the hand. But I trip. When I fall, I drag my sister under bushes at the edge of our village. I look back and see the flames, and I see what the soldiers do to my family and to my neighbors.

I have two younger brothers, Arturo and Rolando, and two sisters, Anita and Angelina. I am the oldest, twelve years old. This night, all of my family dies except Angelina. They are all killed as I watch. I see rape and I see torture. I see things happen this night that I can never speak of.

The night is filled with screams of fear and pain. Tearsfill my eyes when I see my grandfather, Adolfo, try to run. He is old. I look up at the sky because I cannot watch when they shoot him. Above me the sky is cloudy. A thin moon shines through the clouds like a ghost, and I know that tonight the soldiers do not aim their bullets at the moon.

Angelina clings to me in the dark, and I cover her mouth so she cannot scream. I try to cover her eyes, too, but she will not let me. She knows that something very bad is happening.

Something moves in the bushes near me, and I hold my breath. I think it is a soldier, but a voice that I know whispers very loud, “Santiago, keep running!” It is the voice of my uncle Ramos. He lies near me on the ground. His deep breaths sound like a sick horse when it breathes.

“You must come with us,” I say.

“No, I am shot.”

“I will help you.”

“No,” he says. “I am already dead. But you are still alive. Go!”

I nod, but I do not know where a twelve-year-old boy can go with his four-year-old sister. There is no place to run in a country like Guatemala, where everyone is afraid. “Where do we go?” I ask.

“Leave Guatemala. Go as far away as you can and tell what has happened this night.”

“But, Uncle, nobody will listen to me. I am only a boy.”

Pain makes Uncle Ramos bite his lip until it bleeds. “What you have seen tonight makes you a man,” he says, his voice weak. He rolls his body over until he can look into my eyes. “There is a wind that blows and tries to help this country,” he says. “Go now! Be part of this wind. You are the only person who can tell of this evil.”

“But where can I go?” I ask. “To Mexico?”

Uncle Ramos shakes his head. “There are many soldiers north of here. Go south to Lake Izabal. Take the cayuco and sail to the United States of America.” Uncle Ramos lifts his chin. “In my pocket, there is my compass. I have shown you how to use it. Now take it.”

I do not argue. The cayuco is a sailing kayak, something Uncle Ramos is very proud of. I reach into his pocket and find the compass. It feels like a large watch.

Uncle Ramos coughs blood from his mouth. “Remember, the red end of the needle always points to the north. Remember that. Now go!”

I let go of Angelina's mouth and stand. As I turn to run, a soldier sees me. The burning flames from the village let him see my face well, and he raises his rifle. I run once more with Angelina into the forest. Behind me the rifle fires again and again. Bullets hit the trees around me like rocks.

I do not stop or look back. Death is as close as my next breath tonight. I run fast into the black night because I know this trail very well. Many times I have carried heavy loads of maíz, along this trail, from the fields to my village.

“We will find you!” the soldier screams behind me. “Then we will kill you!”

Angelina cannot run anymore and so I carry her. I run even when I cannot breathe, because I am so scared. I do not stop until only the sounds of frogs and crickets fill the night behind me. Then, for the first time, I look back.

The world is not right. Above the trees, I see flames from my village jumping toward the stars. The night sky glows red as if it is burning.

Red Midnight. Copyright © by Ben Mikaelsen. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Ben Mikaelsen is the winner of the International Reading Association Award and the Western Writers of America Spur Award. His novels have been nominated for and won many state reader's choice awards. These novels include Red Midnight, Rescue Josh McGuire, Sparrow Hawk Red, Stranded, Countdown, Petey, and Tree Girl. Ben's articles and photos appear in numerous magazines around the world. Ben lives near Bozeman, Montana, with his 700-pound black bear, Buffy.

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Red Midnight 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Bush_Man More than 1 year ago
Red Midnight is an exciting adventure, historical fiction blend. Ben Mikaelsen the author strongly portrayed the horrors that a Guatemalan child and his sister must deal with. Ben Mikaelsen was born in Bolivia and there he had to deal with the prejudice of being white. As soon as he moved to America he had to deal with the comments that insulted the way he spoke English. From this he decided that he was going to become a children¿s book writer and express the truth in the world. With this he decided he was going to become a writer when he was 13 the themes of this book are caution and diligence. Each of these themes is strongly demonstrated because of the hardships and past that Santiago must live with. Diligence is shown when Santiago in his cayuco (canoe) and thinks all he can really do is double-check everything to keep him and his sister from death. . ¿I do no know what will happen tomorrow, but today our world is the ocean and the cayuco.¿ (Pg. 89) He must stay completely focused on the task at hand and still manage to occupy his 4-year-old sister. Santiago must always be cautious as well because he doesn¿t know whom to trust or not. After all it was the government that destroyed his village and took everything from him except his sister. This novel can remind all of us that our lives may be prosperous at some time but we should always think of the people that don¿t have equal opportunities. Other databases have had their opinions on the book for example at (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0PBX/is_4_36/ai_111165594) they felt that it was a very good adventure book and is a interesting child¿s book but it really wasn¿t very realistic. I feel like this was a well-written and deep book that could spark the interest of young readers but this book was lacking in factual evidence. I would most definitely recommend this novel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is awesome!!!! it's inspiring, adventurous and suspenseful. I felt bad for angelina!!!! :' anyone who likes ben mikealsn has to read this book!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was looking for a young adult literature book to read with my Spanish class that would incorporate some of the culture and/or history of Spanish-Speaking countries. I was more than pleased finding this book. There was excitement, sorrow, failure and triumph. My students were riveted with the chapters and never wanted to stop reading. This is a wonderful book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
 i wanted to read this book again 
Natalie_Carlo More than 1 year ago
Great experience so, interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Ben Mikaelsen's book Red Midnight is a great book about this teenage boy named Santiago and his four year old sister Angelina trying to survive a war in Guatemalaby heading to the United States by sailing in a kayak. Santiago wakes up and the morning and guerilla soldiers attack his village and Santiago's mother tells him to get out and leave with his sister to safety.Santiago tries to escape with soldiers everywhere shooting at anything that moves. Santiago and Angelina run for their lives until they go to their uncle Ramos's house to see if they can use one of his kayaks to escape the fierce attacks by the soldiers. Santiago and his sister learn to sail the kayak and they sail off at sea with the large risks by sailing in shark infested waters and the days of painful heat that they have to travel hundreds of miles to be safe and to start a new life in the United States.I think that the book was great and I could not put the book down. This novel will fill you with questions of what will happen next.I truly reccomend Red Midnight.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book is pretty cool...its really really good.READ IT!! its all about survival...and ben portrays the hardships of survival really well...its as if hes actually had to survive..i am all into survival tales and this one was really good..i tried to write a book about survival and it sucked and i tried so hard so ben is truely gifted
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have just finished this book. I totally understand how Santiago feels because I'm Hispanic. Come on. Read this book. You are in for an exciting adventure.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ben Mikaelsen is more than just any ordinary author. He has time to reply to your e-mails. And he publishes books every once in a while. His last book published in 2001 called Touching Spirit Bear has really inspired myself. This book is more than inspiring. He owns a bear named Buffy who is 700 pounds and lives in Montana. Yeah the news is already out..... I am looking forward to him. I've already read 3 of his books, on two I got autographs signed by him. Go Ben. I already knew this was coming from a friend who had joined a club with Mikalesen about everything about his new book. The only thing I didn't know was the titles, and what the book was about. I have 2 words for Ben. Go BEN!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This a really nice book. I would reccomend it for very actiony people