book review: Guantanamo Boy

book review: Guantanamo Boy

author: Ana Perera

date: Albert Whitman and Co., Sept 2011

main character: Khalid Ahmed

I’ve seem to be stuck on the theme of war. While Guantanamo Boy isn’t exactly about war, it is about a situation that couldn’t legally exist if we were at war and if those detained were called prisoners of war. Instead, they’re labeled ‘unlawful enemy combatants’.

Khalid Ahmed is a young man of Turkish/Pakistani origin who is living in London with his family. His mom and dad are quite traditional in the way they dress, eat and raise their family and Khalid is struggling to balance his background with the London school culture in which he lives. And, he’s doing this in a post 9-11 world.

When his father’s sister in Pakistan suddenly dies, the family plans to return to their homeland. Khalid is warned to be careful, that even in the Muslim world, he may not be safe from the war against terrorism. But, being a typical teenager he has no fear. Even if he had, he may not have been spared from the brutalities that lay ahead.

Perera skillfully blends the realities of young Moslem men into this fictional account of Khalid in Guantanamo. Most westerners probably don’t want to know how many innocent men ended up in this American run prison, how they have lost their guaranteed human rights or read the trauma they experience. But, this is a story that needs to be read as we live our lives on Facebook and Twitter and complain about characters on the latest reality TV show. Sorry to sound preachy! This book is not preachy! It’s a very well told story.

Readers spend much time having deep psychological insights as Khalid spends years locked in solitary confinement. We keep reading, believing he has to get out of prison, after all western YA stories always have a happy ending, don’t they? Everything feels so real though, we don’t know how Perera is going to get him out without ruining the integrity of the story. She manages to control the outcome quite as capably as she takes us to the depths of human suffering and slowly bring us out. Slowly, because we don’t trust what Khalid may be seeing any more than he does. Slowly, because it takes a long time for a young man in solitary confinement to experience the simplest of human kindness that he needs to feel human again.

I got caught up on a few of the British terms and I really couldn’t understand why Perera left Khalid’s cousin, Tariq, just hanging (figuratively) but adults and teens need to read this book and start to question what is going on in the world around is in the name of fighting terrorism. Through all the Khalid suffers, the message is that if there is to be peace in the world, it must begin in our daily lives.

review copy provided by NetGalley

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