Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Guantanamo Boy: a review

Perera, Anna. 2011. Guantanamo Boy. Chicago: Albert Whitman.
(first published in the UK, 2009)
Advance Reader Copy supplied by the publisher.  Due on shelves in August.
"We must remember that once we divide the world into good and bad, then we have to join one camp or the other, and, as you've found out, life's a bit more complex than that."
Funny (or not so funny) - in searching for related links, further information and other reviews on Guantanamo Boy, I actually found myself wondering (worrying?) if my every passing stop along the Internet seeking information related to Guantanamo Bay will be tracked by some government official in a cubicle somewhere.  Just the fact that such a thought crossed my mind, is an indication of the intense fear, distrust and paranoia that is gripping our world because of terrorism.  With that worldwide fear and paranoia as a backdrop for Guantanamo Boy, Anna Perera has crafted an entirely plausible story about a 15-year-old British boy, Khalid, from Rochdale, a large town in Greater Manchester, England.

Khalid is much like any other boy from his town, interested in good grades, his mates, soccer ("footy"), girls, and online gaming.  Though his family is Muslim, Khalid is a casual practitioner.  When his family visits Pakistan to assist an aunt, Khalid's father inexplicably disappears.  Khalid goes to check the address where his father was last seen, threading his way through a street protest enroute.  Unable to find his father, he returns to his aunt's home where he is later kidnapped in the late night hours,

Surely only his dad could be coming through the door without knocking this time of night?

But he's badly mistaken. Blocking the hallway is a gang of fierce-looking men dressed in dark shalwar kameez.  Black cloths wrapped around their heads.  Black gloves on their hands.  Two angry blue eyes, the rest brown, burn into Khalid as the figures move towards him like cartoon gangsters with square bodies.  Confused by the image, he staggers, bumping backwards into the wall.  Arms up to stop them getting nearer.  Too shocked and terrified to react as they shoulder him to the kitchen and close the door before pushing him to his knees and waving a gun at him as if he's a violent criminal.  Then vice-like hands clamp his mouth tight until they plaster it with duct tape.  No chance to wonder what the hell is going on, let alone scream out loud.
And so begins Khalid's descent into a frightening labyrinth of secret prisons, interrogation rooms, and finally Guantanamo Bay detention center.
A few lengthy passages are didactic in nature, but they are few in number. Khalid's unique perspective as a boy, a British citizen and non-practicing Muslim of Pakistani descent, offers a superb vantage point into the previously termed War on Terror. His sensibilities are Western, his concerns are adolescent, his perspective is that of  outsider - he has known discrimination in England, he is too Western for his Pakistani relatives, he has little in common with his fellow inmates.  Khalid is the perfect protagonist for this third-person narrative.

Heart-wrenching and frighteningly enlightening, Guantanmo Boy is not without bright spots - the power of small acts of kindness, the love of family, the virtue of forgiveness.  A thought-provoking read for teens and young adults.

Contains an Afterword by the founder and director, of Reprieve.
 Teacher's Guide

More reviews @
Finding Wonderland
guardian.co.uk

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