Friday, June 16, 2017

Soldier Boy: A Novel Based on a True Story of the Ugandan Civil War

31145113Hutton, Keely. Soldier Boy: A Novel Based on a True Story of the Ugandan Civil War
June 13th 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

In 1998, Ricky is living with his family in Uganda. His father is a teacher, and his family believes strongly in education. His older brother, Patrick, is bigger and smarter, but Ricky looks up to him. When soldiers from the Lord's Resistance Army pass by their village, Ricky and his friends are out on the road to try to see what the commotion is. The LRA is brutal, and in one afternoon, Ricky's family is killed and he and Patrick are taken to become soldiers. All of the commanders are blood thirsty, and there is no place for weakness. Only the strong survive. Ricky and Patrick do what they need to do, although they both try not to kill anyone. In alternating chapters, we also see Samuel in 2006. He is recuperating from a bad leg wound at the Friends of Orphans compound, but is very wary of the people there. He, too, has been a child soldier, and is supposed to be sent home. He doesn't want to tell anyone his story, but a kind man plays checkers with him, and eventually gets him to open up. Ricky's story is bleaker, or we see more of it. After years of fighting, he manages to be abandoned by the LRA and goes back to his village, only to receive devastating news. Still, he realizes that in order to survive, he must get an education, and after making it out of Uganda, he manages to graduate from university and eventually returns to his home country to help other child soldiers by founding Friends of Orphans.
Strengths: Hutton takes on a difficult subject and brilliantly balances needed details with the delicacy needed for a middle grade audience. The descriptions of tortures, deaths and other atrocities are not glossed over, but neither are they sensationalized. I also liked how this started with every day life before things got bad, and the fact that the brothers tried hard to remember what that life was like when life in the LRA got bad. This is an important story, and one that children in the US should know about. Like Perkins' Bamboo People , Sullivan's The Bitter Side of Sweet or Park's A Long Walk to Water, this might make a good class novel so that students can be supported in their understanding of this difficult topic.
Weaknesses: This is a very brutal story, despite the author's best efforts. I would not recommend it to all of my students, and certainly this is more of an upper middle grade title.
What I really think: I will buy a copy and recommend it to students who can handle it.
Ms. Yingling

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