Journalist, novelist, and educator.
Alicia Patterson Foundation journalism fellowship, 1995; Booklist Top Ten Novels for Youth designation and Editor's Choice designation, both 2007, both for Useful Fools.
Useful Fools, Dutton (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to periodicals. Also author of nonfiction works Press, Power, and Politics in Peru, Freedom Forum (Arlington, VA), 2000; and Who Should Be Making Decisions?, Biodiversity Support Program (Arlington, VA), 2001.
C.A. Schmidt was a journalist who worked in Peru during the late 1980s and 1990s. During this time, a communist guerilla organization called Sendero Luminoso—the Shining Path—killed thousands of civilians in bombings and other acts of indiscriminate terror throughout the country while a corrupt police force proved to be an equally feared institution among the local people. Schmidt draws on her experiences of this time in the young-adult novel Useful Fools, which focuses on two Peruvian teens living amid terrorist violence. Fifteen-year-old Alonso, part of a poor family, falls in love with Rosa, a doctor's daughter, after the
two teens meet while working at Rosa's father's medical clinic. When Alonso's activist mom is killed by a revolutionary bomb exploded in the slums outside Lima, he is separated from Rosa. The boy's allegiance to the Peruvian government is eventually shattered when a close friend is brutalized by the police and so Alonso looks to the cult-like Senderista guerillas as his only chance for a better future.
In School Library Journal, Kathleen Isaacs praised Schmidt's fiction debut as a "moving coming-of-age novel," writing that the dual narrative of Rosa and Alonso in Useful Fools contrasts the very-different lives of the two teens and provide readers with "an awakened appreciation for the complexity of the issues" surrounding terrorism. In addition to showing the resilience of young love, Useful Fools "raises interesting questions about the uses of war and violence to achieve worthy ends," according to Kliatt critic Myrna Marler, and in Booklist Hazel Rochman predicted that teen readers "will be drawn to the haunting, intense issues of politics and justice." Citing Schmidt's "poetic language," a Publishers Weekly contributor added that in Useful Fools the author "does a credible job of showing the seduction of terrorism in an impoverished society."
As Schmidt explained on her home page, she wrote Useful Fools "in part, to bear witness to the… courage and humanity" of the Peruvians she came to know and care about during her time in their country. "I also wanted to get inside the minds of kids who become terrorists," she added. "What drives a young man to strap a bomb to his body? How can he claim to fight for good, yet do such evil? We need these answers if we're going to make it through the twenty-first century."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, September 1, 2007, Hazel Rochman, review of Useful Fools, p. 117.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 2007, Elizabeth Bush, review of Useful Fools, p. 187.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2007, review of Useful Fools.
Kliatt, July, 2007, Myrna Marler, review of Useful Fools, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, August 27, 2007, review of Useful Fools, p. 92.
School Library Journal, September, 2007, Kathleen Isaacs, review of Useful Fools, p. 207.
C.A. Schmidt Home Page,http://www.caschmidt.com (December 15, 2008).