Lucky and his sister Nopi are at school in their Liberian village, when members of the rebel forces invade the school, kidnap all of the students and force them to become child soldiers. Desperate to get back to the city and to reunite with their family, they risk their lives to escape. But the story isn't over so quickly. After they find their family and the war ends, it starts up again, and they find themselves once again at the will of soldiers who will not hesitate to mame and kill to ensure allegiance.
This slim, yet powerful novel evokes the fear and desperation of children dragged into a civil war. Told in the alternating voice of Lucky and his sister Nopi, it follows the siblings over five years of bloodshed and loss. Though the subject matter is very sensitive, de Graaf handles it with finesse, acknowledging the violence, but not venturing into gore. Because the story is told as a reflection of the brother and sister, and the details of the violence are something they prefer to forget, the major focus is on their hopes, dreams and fears. After the story, de Graaf provides a thoughtful Author's Note and extensive background material that will help young readers place the story and understand Liberia's history. Discussion questions are also included. This is a perfect read for a class (history, social justice, reading, etc.) to do together, as it will provoke strong reactions and may ignite concern and an interest in helping the children of war.
Recommended for grades 7+. Give this to those who were riveted by Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Patricia McCormick's Never Fall Down, or another title (fiction or memoir) about child soldiers. Reluctant readers will be drawn in by the length (under 100 pages), but will keep the pages turning to learn of the fate of Lucky and Nopi.
Son of a Gun is a 2013 Batchelder Honor book.
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