by Patricia Tilton
Children’s Books Heal
March 4, 2012
“What’s your name boy? He stares into the mirrored sunglasses. Words don’t come out. I’ll tell you mine, then you tell me yours. What’s behind those mirrors? All he can see is himself. What’s inside the camouflage uniform? My name is Grant. See, it’s easy. Now tell me yours. He finds a voice. It comes out: James.” Abe in Arms is a gripping novel about a teen who has survived the war in Liberia, escaped the rebel army, and is adopted by an American doctor and his loving family. Abe may have survived the war and started a new life, but his scars are so deep that his senior year begins to unravel as he deals with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is a story you will not easily forget, or want to forget. It evokes a powerful response within you.
Abe is a high school senior on his ways to a Division 1 Track scholarship. He is an honor student, has a girlfriend and has developed a close relationship with his brother, Niko, and parents. Abe is at a track meet at the starting line with the other runners when he hears the gun “BANG.” Abe leaps forward, but is suddenly transported to another place and time where he hears the BANG of rebels guns shooting randomly at people in his village. He has collapsed at the starting line and is curled in a fetal position. His coach is shouting his name. Abe is rushed to the hospital. Over the following months, Abe suffers disabling flashbacks and seizures as he relives the events of his young life in war-torn Liberia, where he loses his mother and sister. At home, his brother Niko, observes his flashbacks at night and his explosive temper over silly things. At school he is zoning out in classes. He fights with another runner and knocks out his teeth. He distances himself from his girlfriend. His father, Dr. George Elders, recognizes Abe is in trouble and has him work with a therapist who specializes in PTSD. Abe journeys into a dark world where he has suppressed his memories. He finds himself facing the demons of his past life as a boy soldier—something he wants to bury. This action-packed novel is full of suspense, twists and turns, surprises and hope.
Why I like this book: Pegi Deitz Shea has written a powerful book for teens about young boys forced to become soldiers in war-torn countries like Africa. She isn’t afraid to take her readers to complicated and uncomfortable places. These boy soldiers suffer unimaginable violence and are made to do things by rebel armies that are horrific. They are robbed of their childhoods. How will those who survive, ever live normal lives? Abe in Arms is just one shocking story about a teen coming to grips with his past. Fortunately, Abe is grounded by the support and love of his family who long to see him heal. Click here on the Reach and Teach resource link for Abe in Arms. This site has information from Amnesty International, resources, lessons plans, ways to get involved and a very moving video about a boy soldier. Published reports estimate that there are approximately 250,000 children enslaved as soldiers around the world.
Pegi Deitz Shea is an award-winning children’s author, who has brought the worlds of refugees, immigrants, child laborers and historical figures into the minds of readers of all ages through books that include The Whispering Cloth, Tangled Threads, Ten Mice for Tet, The Carpet Boy’s Gift, Patience Wright, and Noah Webster: Weaver of Words.