I remember being young when I first heard about the war in Sierra Leone.. it wasn't long after we had finished discussing the start of the Gulf War "Current Events" class. (long before the war actually started in '98). These wars always perplex me, because it's never truly known why they happen. The RUF and the army were doing the same things and for the same reason, and yet they were enemies. To me, that makes no sense.
There's controversy surrounding this book, as there are with ANY book on a topic such as this. Whether this book is fact or fiction is really irrelevant. The events of the war took place just as described; whether or not the boy named Ishmael in the story is actually the author doesn't matter. This book could have been written by ANYONE who had a place as a soldier in the war. Don't let the controversy take away from the very real problem of militant and rebel armies recruiting young boys (usually between the ages of 7-16) to die for their causes. This is an issue that's been known to our world since before the war in Sierra Leone and will continue to be a problem until there's a way to prevent it from continuing.
This book takes you "behind the scenes". Told through the eyes of a boy who was forced to become a soldier in Sierra Leone. It tells how it happened, what went on while he was a soldier, and how he coped and rediscovered who he really is. The story is heartbreaking and I cried for Ishmael more than once while reading of the things that went on. My heart broke for the childhood so brutally ripped away from him because of the war, and for each and every friend and family member he lost. There were times I smiled to, his first trip to New York is amazing story all on its own, but the reader is quickly reminded that was just a small intermission to the main focus of the story. There are many many tribe stories interwoven in this book, each one is told exactly where it needs to be to help the reader better understand what Ishmael was thinking at that point in time.
I hope Ishmael has found some peace in his heart and his soul after writing his account.. I hope every person who reads this book understands and realizes that Sierra Leone isn't the only country to use children as soldiers.. and that it could just as easily be our country some day.
This book is NOT for the casual reader, obviously given what the book is about, there is a lot of talk about death and how commanders would brainwash the boys into killing the enemy. There are a few very detailed scenes that I wouldn't recommend the weak of heart or mind read as well. This book isn't a walk in the park, it's not going to bring a smile to the reader's face when it ends... But perhaps it will open the reader's eyes to the things people in war torn countries have to endure.
I give this book 5 of 5 paws