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Guantanamo Boy Review by Susan K. Marlow

By Anna Perera
Albert Whitman & Company
250 South Northwest Highway, Suite 320
Park Ridge, IL 60068

It's six months after 9/11, and everything has changed. The War on Terror has been launched, and no terrorist is safe from the forces of frightened, angry people. But what if you are not a terrorist? What if you are an average, secular Muslim teen living an ordinary life in the West? Surely, there is nothing to fear. Wrong! In this 352-page, 30-chapter young adult novel, there is plenty to fear.

In Guantanamo Boy, 15-year-old Khalid Ahmed considers himself British. He and his family live in Manchester, England, where Khalid and his two little sisters were born. He speaks English, hangs out with his mates (friends), goes to school, and lives and breathes football (soccer). His father is a chef at a nearby restaurant; his mother works at his sisters' school. He has relatives in Pakistan, but that's all they are--faraway relatives he has never seen. He has never even met his cousin, Tariq, with whom he chats online and plays video games. Khalid is an English boy through and through.

When his mother announces they are going to Pakistan over the Easter holidays, Khalid is not happy. He wants to stay home and spend time with his mates. But Grandmother has died, and the entire family is going to help the aunts move to a better home. Khalid is dragged to a strange, foreign country, where he does not speak the language and does not especially like the culture. He wants to go home--to England. Then one day, while out looking for his father, Khalid gets caught in a crowd of demonstrators. Not long afterward, he is kidnapped, and his nightmare begins. He has done nothing wrong, but he is now a prisoner in Guantanamo and a suspected terrorist--a boy with no future and with no understanding of why he has been beaten, tortured, and questioned for two long years.

Khalid Ahmed is a fictional character, but his story is true. Guantanamo Boy is based on serious research into the grim reality of what happens when a world goes crazy with fear. The author has done her homework well, and the book includes an afterword that shares the truth of even children being held without cause at Guantanamo Bay, kidnapped because of bounties paid to find terrorists. This novel is not for the faint-of-heart. The scenes of torture (water boarding), beatings, and Khalid's confusion and despair during his imprisonment are so well written that I felt I was right there--and it was scary. However, my heart soared as Khalid overcame his despair and found courage to keep going until he was eventually released.

This book is definitely for teens and above, and when you open the pages, your eyes will be opened to what surely must be the best-kept secret on the planet. There is a wealth of information--all delivered by way of an unusual, third-person, present-tense fictional story--that will give you hours of discussion opportunities with your teens about family, terrorism, prison, governments, and human rights. I would suggest reading the book aloud with your teens. That's what I would have done if I'd had this powerful book when I was homeschooling. Information about a human rights group, Reprieve, dedicated to getting these innocent people (adults and children) released from their unlawful imprisonment, is also included at the back of the book, as well as a timeline of 9/11 events through May 2011.

One of the things I really appreciate about this novel is the extras. The publisher has included discussion questions that address many of the issues brought up in the book. These are not your basic comprehension questions; they require quite a bit of thought. What a great opportunity to use them to help your children make their way through a deep, sensitive, and sometimes disturbing novel. The guide is available at the back of the book or online:

Product review by Susan K. Marlow, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, October 2011