Oh. Em. Gee. This book was filed in the children’s book section of my library app, so I didn’t quite expect what was coming. Not an easy read, for sure, but definitely one that was worth reading. I started this when I got into bed at 10.30pm on boxing day and basically stayed awake til after 2pm because I simply couldn’t put it down.
We start the book with a ship capsizing in the middle of the ocean and a boy struggling to get to the surface. Then no sooner has it started, we rewind back to the beginning of the story.
Shif is an ordinary boy of 14. He lives with his mum and his little sister, he goes to school (favourite subject is maths), and he loves playing chess with his best friend Bini. But when his mum realises he’s about to be taken away to do his mandatory military service, and that because his dad has already been ‘disappeared’ by the government, the chances are that they will do the same for him, they hatch a plan for Shif and Bini to be smuggled from the country.
But the night before Shif and Bini are due to leave, the soldiers come for them and bundle them away to a prison in the middle of the desert. I say prison, it’s basically a shipping container – no windows, no air, a bucket for a toilet. Roasting hot during the day, and freezing cold during the night.
When Shif and Bini get inside, they realise that their new cell-mates have been there for a long time, and the likelihood is that they won’t be leaving either. But their cell-mates have been waiting for a new arrival for a while. They know that they will never leave, but they don’t want their stories to be lost, to die unknown in the middle of nowhere.
So they hatch a plan to help Shif and Bini escape from the prison, but that’s only the start of the nightmare for the poor boys.
Heart-breakingly written in first person, the perspective only served to amplify the horrors of what was happening. I couldn’t help but think of the 14 year olds in the youth group I lead and I could hardly bear to imagine them in a situation like this.
I was honestly in shock for a large proportion of this book, it was so brutal and raw and completely unexpected for a book that was in the children’s section. I’d say it’s definitely more young adult than children’s, the topics may be quite hard to understand for a smaller child, even though I think it’s important we all realise the reality of what’s happening across the world.
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