Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this before its June publication. A harrowing story, but one that should not be ignored.
Our main focus is Abdi, a sixteen year old Somali boy, who – in order to protect his family – was asked by the Americans to infiltrate the jihadi terrorist group Al Shabaab. He vividly recalls the day that Al Shabaab boys came to his town and took his brother. Abdi was thirteen.
Our story is split between the now – when Abdi is being cared for by Sam, a worker for the UN – and then – the process that lead to Abdi being recruited by the group and the activities he was forced to take part in.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the subject matter is tough reading. The indoctrination of children to such groups, and the callous disregard for human life shown by such leaders, is graphically conveyed to us. However, making it clear that Abdi did not participate willingly, and that he is now in fear for his life, meant the book did not seem to glamorise such actions at all.
The details given about how the group operated were fascinating. What struck me, however, was the very real focus on the emotional impact on Abdi and others like him of such groups. There was an emotional honesty to this that is hard to ignore, and I cannot wait to see how it goes down with teen readers.