Our amazing Indie Bookshop, The King’s English, asked us a couple months ago if we’d like to participate in a Skype discussion with Keely Hutton to talk about her debut novel Soldier Boy and we excitedly accepted! This book is nothing like I’ve ever read before, especially in the world of YA. It is a powerful and heartbreaking book that tells a story of a boy who learns to forgive when forgiveness doesn’t seem possible. I think that books like Soldier Boy are important for young readers, and adults alike, to help people understand that the world that we live in is not black and white. History needs to be talked about, even the bad parts.
Soldier Boy by Keely Hutton
All Ricky needed to do was wake up. Just open his eyes. And Kony’s red-eyed beasts with their long claws dripping blood and their fiery breath would have disappeared. His brother would be beside him. His parents and sisters would be safe and asleep in their beds.
Just like before.
Here is the true story of Ricky Richard Anywar, abducted in 1989 at age fourteen by Joseph Kony’s rebel army in the Ugandan civil war (one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts). Ricky is trained, armed, and sent to battle government troops alongside his brutal kidnappers, but over his two and a half years of enslavement, he never stops dreaming of escape.
Here also is the story, set twenty years later, of a fictional character named Samuel, a boy deathly afraid of trusting anyone ever again, and representative of the thousands of child soldiers Ricky has helped rehabilitate as founder of the internationally acclaimed charity Friends of Orphans.
I was a student at Weber State University in 2012 when the documentary Kony 2012 hit the world. I have not watched the documentary but I became very aware of who Joseph Kony was, and who he was in the world. I started seeing flyers with “Kony 2012” plastered all over campus and Facebook events started showing up encouraging people to go out and paint the town with awareness to the documentary. I think we live in this bubble where we choose not to see what is happening in other parts of the world, especially the negativity, unless it is directly related to us. In my opinion, just because Kony and his LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) are in Africa it doesn’t mean that we as human beings are not affected by the actions they took against their society.
This book is done in two points of view. The first POV is that of Ricky Anywar, who is a real life person, and Keely did a wonderful job of writing Ricky’s story in a way that makes you feel what he is feeling. When we spoke with Keely the other day one of the questions asked was, “How much of Ricky’s experiences were in the book, and were there any parts that were changed?” Everything that happened to Ricky in the book are true events that happened to him during his 2 1/2 years in the LRA. Knowing these events actually took place made reading some parts of the book very difficult but by the end you can’t help but feel inspired by Ricky’s strength and inspired by his will to survive.
The second POV is from a fictional boy named Samuel. These chapters in the book were found less often but were used as a way to relieve the reader of the difficult events taking place. Keely based Samuel off of a compilation of real life survivors of the LRA. Although he is a fictional character, Keely wrote him so realistically that it felt as if this book were about two real life boys who escaped a life of fear and learned that there is still hope in a world where all feels lost.
I listened to this book on Audible and I can’t rave enough about it. I listen to most of my books and this is probably one of the best audio books I’ve ever listened to. Although there are moments in this book that may be hard to listen to I highly recommend it. Kevin R. Free is one of my new favorite narrators. He brought Ricky’s story to life in the most authentic way and really portrayed the emotions of each character in this book.
Have you read other YA Books based on real individuals? If so, what books? Will you be adding this to you TBR lists?