Book Overview from Barnes and Noble:
An exceptional debut novel about a young Muslim war orphan whose family is killed in a military operation gone wrong, and the American soldier to whom his fate, and survival, is bound.
Jonas is fifteen when his family is killed during an errant U.S. military operation in an unnamed Muslim country. With the help of an international relief organization, he is sent to America, where he struggles to assimilate-foster family, school, a first love. Eventually, he tells a court-mandated counselor and therapist about a U.S. soldier, Christopher Henderson, responsible for saving his life on the tragic night in question.Christopher's mother, Rose, has dedicated her life to finding out what really happened to her son, who disappeared after the raid in which Jonas' village was destroyed. When Jonas meets Rose, a shocking and painful secret gradually surfaces from the past, and builds to a shattering conclusion that haunts long after the final page.
What Hooked Me:
There is a surprising gentleness to this book, even though it talks about the brutality of war. Maybe it is a reflection of the remarkable way that the author told the story, aptly bereft of insignificant subplots to illustrate the lasting heartache and devastation war brings to both sides. Reading through the almost surreal recollection of Younis/Jonas memory and finally reading the conclusion of Christopher's diary has left me with a heavy heart and confirms my conviction that war is never the answer.
'They arrived like a thought, tracing contrails across deep sky as though writing out their intentions in letters too big to be fully seen from the earth. Or they flowed low and fast over the hills, their great machines arcing silently from horizon to horizon, so fast that they were there and gone before the roar from their engines caught up, screaming the news of their arrival even as they disappeared.
In the village they tried to make sense of it.
The imam said that the Americans were like the lion who had stepped on a thorn, and then went about making a great noise, roaring at the world from his pain. But it would soon pass, he said, when the thorn dried up and fell out, when the pain ebbed, and then tranquility would be restored.' (opening paragraphs)
'What is it like to lose everything, they ask. The question takes various forms, and that day, sitting in plastic chairs beside a shattered house, he developed his one and only response.
"What is it like to lose everything?" asked the man, the stranger who was there to help.
And Younis fixed him with his pale green eyes and said, "What is it like not to?"'(11)
'They are known everywhere, whether they are welcomed at chic lounges by bartenders who are eager to add a touch of ethnicity to their ambiance, or they are the dark kids in the corner, most likely engineering students, who talk funny. Or maybe they are something in between, something more like their classmates, like everyone of a certain age: on their own, confident and self-absorbed and accomplished and immature and cruel and generous and smart and unconcerned and cavalier and sensitive and ambitious, and, and, and.'(46)
'But you are still human. Eventually you do reflect on it. The consequences make themselves known. The results of your actions persist. Eventually, you are struck by their meaning. At some point, an accounting is made. Eventually, if you are human, and sane, you examine what you have done.'(49)
'It gets in there, this thought, this way of thinking. They try to plant it, for sure, tend to it so that it grows, foster it, but it is in there to begin with. You're born with it, I suppose, and eventually life takes it out of you. The notion that you're invincible. No fear, they said. They don't want you to have any fear. Those other things, that invincibility, that aggression. They bring it out in you, show you how to do things, try to teach you how not to be stupid, how to protect each other. Protect each other. Be aggressive. Protect each other.
And then one day you find out what that really means.'(56)
'Over the fireplace is a portrait that dominates the room, nearly the size of the fireplace itself. It is him. The face is so familiar but also different, younger and less worn than he remembers it. The crow's-feet have not yet developed around his eyes, and the hair is freshly shorn. He wears a dress blue uniform, and the American flag behind him is so crisp that Jonas can almost see it waving in the cool breeze that puffs in through the open windows. The face looks out at them from its place over the mantel as though presiding over a court.'(59)
'The room is bathed in a diffuse glow, the early-afternoon breeze, the grandfather clock ticking away in the corner. Rose's face has been forced into a mask, fixed in place by an endless cycle of yearning and disappointment, a calm exterior laid over a mix of curiosity and something else. Hope.'(60)
'The rooster crowed again in the distance, and Younis was nearly finished when he heard the noise.
It cut sharply through the clear night, louder and louder. He will never be able to describe it adequately. It sounded like a lot of things: like paper ripping, amplified a hundred times, and overlaying that was the sound of a flag cracking rapidly in a strong wind, and some kind of engine noise, like a scooter with a broken tailpipe, and underneath it all was a low, long whistle, sounding for all the world like the whistle his father made when he called the sheep in from the far pasture. The entire cacophony grew louder and louder, but at the same time, in his memory, extended on until forever.'(62)
'This happened much faster that it takes to describe, only seconds, and later Younis will express his amazement at this, at how quickly everything changes, whether because of a decision you make or the decisions made by others, or just because of chance, and in a moment the entire path of your life, everything you knew and everything you will ever know, is altered. But in those few seconds all he recognized was the need to make a decision and, somewhere deep inside, the importance of his choice.'(65)
'Rose has heard stories like this before. Not this story, of course. This story is different. Each story is different. But all of them share a need to be told, to be heard, and Rose knows how to hear them. She knows that those gaps are important, that they mean something. She knows that often the gaps are nearly as important as the story itself.'(66)
'In a way, they're still there, now that I've seen them, set together by chance or fate under the African sun, safe, for the moment, from the surrounding cruelty, each one's life given meaning by the other's.(78)
'What if you become convinced that, even though you are there to help them, the locals are not only unappreciative, but might actively hate you? What if you start calling all the locals hajjis? What if you start to see them less and less as human beings and more and more as things to be categorized as either very threatening or less threatening?'(88)
'She had been told that once she arrived at the point of acceptance, she would be able to move forward. It would mark a turning point. And they were correct, whoever it was who told her this. It did mark the kind of turning point she had expected. She had come to think of her life as being on hold. She had an inkling that once she reaches the point of acceptance, everything could finally begin again. But looking back on it, she realizes that rather than marking the point her life restarted, the day she finally accepted loss marked the point when it all fell apart.'(89)
'An order is an order. We could not risk letting them go. I'm sorry it had to go the way it did. I really am. I would change it in an instant if I could. I would go back in time and do it differently. I would ask questions. I would raise objections. I would ask to see the intel. I would pay attention to the nagging sensation in the core of my brain that was trying to tell me that something was wrong. Truly I would.
But we had orders, and they were very clear.
An order is an order.
We had orders.'(123)
'Occasionally Jonas hears the voice of his savior.
It comes to him when he is unable to turn his thoughts to anything else. The voice he hears is gentle and deep. When he remembers it, he tries to get it right, tries to match the words exactly, but has the familiar feeling that he is adding and subtracting, substituting what should have been said for what he fails to remember accurately.
What should have been said. What he fails to remember.
He is haunted by both.'(134)
a Blue Rider Press Nook edition