On what seemed like a normal trip with his friends outside his home village of Mattru Jong, Sierra Leone, the rebels come into his village and start killing anything that moves. When he thinks it is safe, Ishmael and his friends head back to his Mattru Jong to search for the families but find only bodies littering the street. When they can't find their families, the group of boys search for food from nearby villages. They quickly learn that groups of boys are looked upon suspiciously because that's what the rebel forces travel as.
As they travel village to village, they receive help from unlikely sources and see more violence and death than any child should. Eventually soldiers bring the remaining boys into a village and promise them safety. Ishmael watches these soldiers clean their guns, take drugs, and watch Rambo before going out to kill rebels. When the soldiers lose too many men, they pose an ultimatum to the village. Either join us and fight or leave the village. At the age of 13, Ishmael becomes a soldier.
The story follows Ishmael as he lives the nightmare of war and then his rehabilitation. Ishmael's story is sad but it draws you in and holds your attention for the entire duration.
The majority of the book was explaining Ishmael's journey before he became a soldier. I was interested in learning about how he was rehabilitated but found that not enough of the novel focused on this. The ending left me hanging a bit too. Though it did make me look up Ishmael online.
Despite the fact that the book didn't go into as much detail as I would have liked, I couldn't put it down. I was concerned for Ishmael's well being and hoped that him and his family would be ok. It's great to see that Ishmael is trying to help other kids who have gone through what he has and bring this story to the world.
First Line: "There are all kinds of stories told about the war that made it sound as if it were happening in a faraway and different land."