A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a rough book, both in content and in subject. There is swearing, brutal violence (several murders are described, including one with a baseball bat), drugs, alcohol, and smoking. But none of this is as disturbing as the subject: child assassins working for Medellin drug lords. Through this story, readers will learn about the hardships these kids face, and understand better why they make the choices they do. They will also be asked to think about some critical questions, from who is to blame for the drug war, to when someone stops being a victim and becomes a criminal.
What's the story?
Sonny and Alberto are best friends on the mean streets of Medellin, Columbia. They hang out together and protect each other, working together in small-time crime, such as selling contraband cigarettes. So Sonny is shocked when Alberto becomes one of the sicarios, child assassins used by drug lords because they are easy to control, manipulate, and dispose of. Alberto's gun and money give him prestige and respect in the neighborhood, and his determination to keep Sonny out of it tests their friendship. But when Alberto disappears, Sonny's way is cleared, and he no longer has anything to lose.
Is it any good?
This is rough stuff, make no mistake. Every now and then we hear something on the nightly news about the drug wars, the narcotrafficantes, the gangs and militia in Columbia, but it takes something like this powerful book to make it real, especially to teens. While the events depicted here are horrific, author Matt Whyman does keep the reader at some emotional distance. Ordinarily this would be a criticism, but here it's more like praise. These are characters with a miserable present and no future, and readers will be disturbed enough without having emotionally identified with Sonny and Alberto. But the book will still have a powerful impact on your kids, and parents should be prepared to discuss the intense material.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the book's subject matter. It's pretty intense stuff -- should teens read it? Are there any topics that should be off limits to young adult readers? Why or why not?
Also, how is reading a book like this one different than reading a news story about the drug war? How does a personal story change things? Do you think the protagonists here are victims -- or merely criminals?
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