Where to start with this one? It is a tough read due to the material, not because of the style. Harsh, uncompromising, and unafraid to hit you with the raw facts of what these children deal with in their short, and often miserable, lives. It has the ring of truth in every chapter, though I have not investigated just how much reality was invested in this work. Partly, this was my own cowardice, and partly because I didn’t want to get too much deeper into the knotted tales told within these covers.
As a story, real or not, the pace is a times fast, at times slow, but always there is a momentum to the tale that propels you forward and deeper into the work. It is told from first person, more as a narrative than as a epistolary (like a diary), which does help the plot flow smoothly through the entire work. I mentioned there were some slower places, but at no point did the story seem to drag on. The slow downs were because either a scene needed the extra time, or there was very little happening, and so the author provided a chance to recover your balance after being hit hard and low by what these children had just survived. I also mentioned there were times when the pace was fast, and there were a few places when it seemed things were a bit rushed without a need to race through the situation. Again, this may be because Daniel was recounting personal experiences, or may not have wished to linger over some of the scenes. I honestly do not believe he rushed these parts to just get on to other, better things. He showed no fear, or inability to present the worst encounters without sugar coating them.
Though the support cast in this book spring up almost full fledged, the main character does show a remarkable amount of growth and development. Both as a person, and as a leader. From a scared, scrap of a child, he develops into someone able to coax the band of run away orphans into doing things that help the group, not just themselves to continue living one more day. From a child full of fear about living through the next hour to someone able to think about living through next year, the changes he undergoes to get there are a massive shift in his thinking. He also goes from one of the least respected to one of the most respected youth in the group because of his own growth and learning.
Through it all, the narrative remains bleak, and almost hopeless. Each obstacle the children overcome seems to lead to another, bigger, issue to be faced and demolished. Food, shelter, warmth, survival, and even the emotional ties between them are all examined in minute detail – where do they come from, why do they exist, and above all – how to do these things serve to pressure each of the boys and girls to continue on another day when there does not appear to be anything to look forward to but more of the same. It is a rich tapestry woven in these words, though the picture is not a pretty one.
Since this is presented as a personal journal, the few grammar issues I noticed are well within character for the main character. If this had been presented in third person, perhaps they may have been more of a problem for me. As it was, it just served to pull me in deeper into the tale, and to listen more carefully to what the story had to say about the children’s experiences.
Overall, even though I probably will not be returning to this book any time soon, I think it deserves the full 4 out of 5 stars. If only for the unflinching look at the harsh reality the poor of a poor country must face on a daily basis. Even though there is a happy ending for this one, so many times, these happy endings are just in the dreams of the downtrodden as they face their personal bitter ends.
If you wish to pick up a copy, it is available on Amazon here.
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