Ishmael is a normal 12 year old boy getting into mischief and learning dances moves to hip hop music. When he travels to a near-by village for a dance competition, the rebels hit his home town. What follows is an extraordinary journey. The boys return home after a harrowing trip to find nothing left and no signs of their parents. They, then start a journey to try and find them.
The boys are looked on very suspiciously as that is how the rebels travel and the rebels destroy everything in their path. It is very hard to find a roof over their heads let alone something to eat. For months Ishmael travels having many close calls with the rebels and eventually losing his brother and other comrades. He ends up in a village controlled by the army and giving the inhabitants a small measure of security.
After losing too many militia to the rebels the army tells the villagers to either join them or leave. Ishamel joins and is soon caught up in the anger and violence of the army and the drugs the army provides to deaden what the boys are required to do.
One day the UN comes to the village and seems to buy some of the boy soldiers. They take them back to Freetown to a compound for rehabilitation. It is a long and drawn out procedure with much patience shown by the UN staff. Ishmael, eventually becomes a human rights advocate for children.
This book was very illuminating. Ishmael has had to endure experiences no child should even come close to. I, too, found the ending abrupt and wished the story had been extended a bit. This is such a powerful story of how one can turn hate and violence into something positive.
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."