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
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: http://www.albertwhitman.com/resources/BookResources/3/1/documents/gb_tg_final_03.31.11_v21.pdf