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Soldier Boy

Soldier Boy

by Keely Hutton


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A searing, shocking book—part non-fiction, part novel—based on the true story of a child soldier in Uganda who survived war and enslavement and went on to create a haven for others who suffered a similar fate.

Soldier Boy begins with the story of Ricky Richard Anywar, abducted at age fourteen in 1989 to fight with Joseph Kony's rebel army in Uganda’s decades-long civil war. Ricky is trained, armed, and forced to fight government soldiers alongside his brutal kidnappers, but never stops dreaming of escape.

The story continues twenty years later, with a fictionalized character named Samuel, representative of the thousands of child soldiers Ricky eventually helped rehabilitate as founder of the internationally acclaimed charity Friends of Orphans.

Working closely with Ricky himself, debut author Keely Hutton has written an eye-opening book about a boy’s unbreakable spirit and indomitable courage. Beginning in Africa amidst the horrors of civil war, his is a story that is as uplifting as it is heartwrenching.

Praise for Solider Boy:

Unapologetically searing and catastrophically truthful, a reminder to readers that it demands much to meet harsh realities with impossible courage.” —Kirkus Reviews

“In this brutal debut novel inspired by real-life events, Hutton addresses the horrors of the Ugandan civil war through two child soldiers. Hutton approaches the setting, conflict, and characters with unremitting honesty, drawing from Anywar’s own life (he contributes an afterword) while using the fictional Samuel as a stand-in for the current generation of unwilling soldiers. This isn’t an easy or pleasant read—Hutton doesn’t shy from discussions of rape, torture, and abuse—but it’s eye-opening and relevant.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A visceral indictment of man’s inhumanity to man, while also celebrating human beings’ ability to empathize and to rescue those who desperately need saving.” —Booklist, starred review

A compelling tale . . . with a message of hope . . . A must-purchase for teen collections.” —School Library Journal, starred review

“Hutton’s debut novel seamlessly blends the biographical account of Anywar’s experiences with the fictional story of Samuel . . . Anywar will inspire a multitude of readers with his phenomenal ability to make peace with his past and his desire to help others like him . . . A must-have for every library with a teen collection.” —VOYA

“A story that stands up for the unrelenting power of the human spirit to reject evil, the nigh-impossible odds that must be conquered to escape enslavement, and the deep scars that remain for a lifetime . . . Unapologetically searing and catastrophically truthful.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Over the years I have read many novels and memoirs about children and warfare in modern Africa, but Soldier Boy stands out as one of the very best. Based on actual historical events, this compelling novel is a story of great violence and pain, but it is also one of tremendous strength, courage, and resilience. I will definitely be assigning it to my students for many years to come.” —Alicia Catharine Decker, Associate Professor, Pennsylvania State University, author of In Idi Amin’s Shadow: Women, Gender, and Militarism in Uganda

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250158444
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication date: 06/12/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 161,451
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 13 - 18 Years

About the Author

Keely Hutton is an educational journalist and former teacher. She is the recipient of the Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop scholarship at Chautauqua. Since 2012, she has been working closely with Ricky Richard Anywar to tell his story. Soldier Boy is her first novel.

Ricky Richard Anywar is the founder of the internationally acclaimed charity Friends of Orphans, and a former child soldier in Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Since escaping the LRA, Anywar has dedicated his life to rehabilitating other survivors and advocating for peace in their communities.

Read an Excerpt

Soldier Boy

By Keely Hutton

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2017 Keely Hutton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-30564-2




Samuel lived by three rules.

Never doubt Kony.

Stay alert.

And trust no one.

He didn't just follow the rules. He lived by them. He lived because of them.

Sitting in the shade on the low porch of a sprawling compound, he couldn't recall the traitorous thought that broke his first rule, but proof of the betrayal hid beneath the bloody bandage wrapped around his thigh. His captors promised the medicine was working, but he could feel the angry swelling beneath the stained wrapping covering the bullet wound where the infection had taken hold.

Samuel understood infection. In his eleven years, he had seen it burrow deep into the bodies of other children. Their feet. Their legs. Their chests. Their arms. Spreading like brush fire until it consumed them.

He picked at the frayed edge of his bandage and struggled to keep his thoughts from evaporating in the fog of painkillers dulling his senses. The drugs ate away at his second rule. He'd spent the last week swaying between fitful sleep and blurry consciousness, unable to form a clear understanding of where he was or what his captors wanted.

A peal of laughter nudged Samuel's attention away from his wound. His head lolled to the side as he watched a faded and worn soccer ball arc through the cloudless Ugandan sky before dropping into the midst of a group of excited children. It bounced off the forehead of the tallest, a teenage boy with legs like the gray crested crane, long and knobby-kneed. He sent it soaring across the dirt field to the waiting chest of a teammate. The huddle of children squealed with delight and scrambled after the ball, kicking up clouds of red dust with their bare feet.

Hard as he tried, Samuel couldn't fit together the images of the laughing children and the razor-wire fence trapping them within its boundaries. His eyes drooped closed from the effort as another numbing current of painkiller pulled him under. Splinters of a memory prickled beneath Samuel's muddied thoughts, and the joyful laughter on the field dissolved into terrified screams.

A sudden attack. Samuel and other panicked rebels grabbing their weapons. Government soldiers charging, guns raised. Explosions ripping into the earth, silencing screams and scattering bodies. A confusion of commands roaring above the smoke.

Bullets firing. Rebels falling. A terrible sharp pain in his leg. Blood gushing from the bullet wound. Samuel begging for help. Crying out for his mama.

Hands reaching for him. Taking his rifle. Taking his panga. Taking his bullets.

Leaving him wounded. Leaving him helpless. Leaving him.




"A powerful home is a place where people work hard," Ricky's mother said, handing him a basket. "You want us to have a powerful home, don't you?"

Ricky placed his school uniform in the basket and set it by the door. "Yes, but I promised I'd help my friends gather wood for the bonfire tonight."

"And you'll keep your promise," she said, "after you fetch me some cassava."

Ricky groaned. During the wet season, the sweet-potato tubers pushed deep into the earth, making them difficult to dig up in the dry season when the ground hardened. "How many do you need?" he asked.

"Fourteen. The whole village is gathering for the wangoo. I want to make sure I prepare enough."

Ricky groaned louder. "Can't Patrick do it? My friends are waiting."

"It won't kill them to wait a bit. Patrick is helping your father close up the school," she said, slicing a mango into bite-sized chunks. "And then he's promised to fix the radio for tonight, so I need your help preparing dinner."

While she wasn't looking, Ricky grabbed two chunks and popped them into his mouth. "What about the girls?" he asked, reaching for more. "Shouldn't they be helping?"

She swatted his hand away. "They are already outside gathering simsim."

Ricky's mouth watered at the thought of the sesame-and-honey treat he hoped his mother would make from the seeds his sisters were collecting. "Are you making candy?"

She smiled. "I thought it would be a nice treat to celebrate the end of another successful school year. Your father tells me you did well in your studies."

Ricky dug his big toe into the dirt floor. "Not as well as Patrick," he mumbled.

His mother looked up from her cutting. "Your brother has two more years of schooling than you. When you're fifteen, you'll be just as smart."

"When I'm fifteen, Patrick'll still be two years older and smarter than me."

She turned to fetch another mango. "Stop worrying about your brother's grades. Just worry about your own."

Ricky crammed another handful of fruit in his mouth before she returned to the table. He stopped chewing when she looked at him with one eyebrow raised and grabbed his swollen cheeks with her sticky fingers.

"And worry about what I am going to do to you if you don't stop eating my mango, Anywar."

Pulpy bits squished between Ricky's teeth as he smiled at her use of his Acholi name, a name reserved for special occasions or when he was trying her patience. "Sorry, Mama."

"You will be sorry if you don't get me some cassava." She delivered a playful swat to his backside. "Now, go! I have much to prepare before we leave for dinner."

Ricky swiped another chunk of mango and ran out the door.

As he made his way into the fields surrounding the family homestead, he tossed his hand hoe in the air. It somersaulted twice in the crisp blue sky before falling toward his waiting basket, where it bounced off the edge and landed in his father's beloved flower garden. Ricky stepped into the garden, and the familiar scent of night roses filled his lungs. A contented smile parted his lips, allowing a sigh to escape as he closed his eyes and breathed in his home.

The sprawling homestead had been in Ricky's family for generations. Tilled soil rolled in gentle waves with row upon row of maize, cassava, millet, simsim, and cotton, which grew in abundance on either side of the compound. A single-story, tin-roofed farmhouse and two thatch-roofed huts huddled together at the center of the property. Beyond the crops, herds of cattle dotted the fields that stretched out to the wild bush.

"Ricky!" his mother yelled. "Get me another mango to replace the one you've eaten!"

"Yes, Mama!"

Ricky jogged over to the tree he'd planted with his brother when he was nine and plucked two mangoes from its branches. Placing them in his basket, he headed down the rutted paths of the cassava field.

Once Ricky had delivered the mangoes and sweet potatoes, he sprinted to the village. Now that school was out for the holiday, the promise of long days spent fishing and hunting with his brother and friends lightened each step as he raced between huts. Nearing the fire pit, he dodged groups of mothers balancing large bowls of food on their heads and swaddled babies on their backs. The infants cooed and laughed from the security of their colorful obenos as Ricky ran past.

He found Thomas, Andrew, and John gathering small branches and dry twigs for the evening fire.

"We're hunting tomorrow, right?" Thomas asked, pulling on a tree branch.

"I don't know," Ricky said. "I have to ask my mother first."

Thomas yanked the branch free and tossed it to Ricky. "C'mon, boy. We're just hunting rats."

Thomas lived to hunt. At seventeen, he was the oldest of their group and Patrick's best friend. He was fearless, and Ricky loved to listen to him tell tales of his latest adventure in the bush. Unlike the elders of the village, who used only their voices to weave tales at the wangoo each night, Thomas told a story with his whole body. He stalked around the fire, leaping high above the flames and pouncing at children as he reenacted a lioness hunting an impala.

"What's your mama afraid is going to happen?"

Thomas asked, breaking off another dead branch. "Does she think a rat will nibble your toes?"

"No. She thinks you take too many chances."

Thomas's mouth fell open in pretend shock. "Me? Put you in danger? When have I ever done that?"

Ricky, Andrew, and John stopped their work and laughed at him.

"What?" Thomas asked.

"Have you forgotten about the python?" Ricky asked. "Because my mother hasn't."

Thomas waved the question away. "You were never in any real danger. I knew what I was doing."

Andrew snorted. "No, you didn't. You were spearing fish. The python just swam in your way."

"I'll spear you if you don't shut up," Thomas said, chucking a branch at Andrew's head.

Andrew ducked away. At thirteen, Ricky's classmate barely passed for eleven, but what Andrew lacked in size, he made up for in nerve and speed. Before Thomas could grab another branch, Andrew retaliated with a clump of dirt. It exploded on Thomas's back, leaving behind a dusty scorch mark.

"Just wait until we get to the well tonight," Thomas said, shooting Ricky a mischievous smile. "We still owe you for yesterday."

"I think there's still a bit of dirt in your hair," Andrew said, throwing another clump at Thomas. "You'll want to wash carefully tonight."

Thomas jumped to the left, and the dirt hit John's backside.

Andrew erupted in another fit of laughter. "Beat you to the well!" he said, breaking into a sprint.

Thomas threw down his kindling. "Oh, I'll beat you, all right!"

"You've got to catch me first," Andrew yelled, darting between two women carrying pots of water and peeled cassava to the fire to be boiled for the communal dinner.

Thomas skidded to a stop before colliding with the women, who scolded him for not being more careful. Mumbling a quick apology, he skirted around them and continued his pursuit of Andrew.

With a shake of his head, John piled an armful of kindling in the fire pit and then dusted off the back of his shorts.

At fourteen, Thomas's younger brother was the peacemaker of their group, a role he played to perfection.

"I'd better get to the well and make sure Thomas doesn't kill Andrew," John said, picking up his brother's dropped kindling. "Are you coming?" "I have to get Patrick first."

"Where is he, anyway? I thought he was going to help us with the fire."

"He had to do something for my father." Ricky tossed his last handful of twigs on the wangoo. "I'll get him and meet you at the well."

Ricky found Patrick in the thatch-roofed hut they shared, hunched over their family radio, the village's only receiver and its one connection to the world beyond its borders. He crossed the small room to grab his bathing bucket and a hollow gourd used for fetching water from the well, careful not to step on the pieces of villagers' disassembled tools, watches, and clocks littering the dirt floor. "It's time to get washed up for dinner," he said.

His brother looked up from the radio. "I need to finish this. Baba's counting on me having it fixed by dinner. It's been two weeks without any news from Kampala. People are getting nervous."

Ricky picked up a large block of dry soap from beside his bucket and rubbed it over his head until flakes of soap clung to his hair. "Do you think you can do it?" he asked, replacing the soap, which they weren't allowed to take to the well.

"Yes," Patrick said, turning his attention back to the radio.

"Mama and the girls are making a special meal to celebrate the school year ending. If we're late, we'll miss all the good food." Ricky stared down at the pieces of the radio still lying before Patrick. "How much longer is it going to take?"

"Not long. I think I've finally figured out what's wrong." He pointed to a small pair of tweezers lying near Ricky's feet. "Hand me those."

Ricky tossed him the tweezers. "Do you want me to wait with you?"

"No, you go ahead," Patrick said, not looking up from his work. "I'll meet you there soon."

* * *

When Ricky arrived at the well, he found dozens of children from his own and neighboring villages already waiting in line with their bathing buckets and gourds, but Thomas, Andrew, and John were not among them. One at a time, the children knelt down beside the small rectangular hole dug deep into the ground several meters from the watering hole used by local livestock. The children dipped their gourds in the clouded water and then poured the water into their bathing buckets. When the buckets were full, they carried them behind the tall grass or bushes surrounding the well for some privacy as they washed. As Ricky neared the well, he scanned the area to make certain his friends weren't hiding nearby, waiting to ambush him with clumps of dirt. When he was convinced they weren't, he got in line.

While he waited, he spotted Daniel, a young boy from his sister Margaret's class, approaching a group of teenagers chatting about their plans for school break.

"May I use one of your buckets?" Daniel asked in a small voice.

"Don't you have your own?" a girl asked.

Casting his eyes to the ground, Daniel shook his head.

Vincent, the tallest boy in the group, stepped forward. He didn't live in Ricky's village, but every kid in the region knew of his cruelty.

"You can use mine," he said, holding out his bucket, but when Daniel moved to take it, Vincent lifted the bucket higher. "If you can reach it," he added, smirking at his friends.

Daniel glanced around at the boys and girls, who were watching with amused interest, and his head sank in shame.

"Jump for it," Vincent said. "Your baba will have your hide if you go home smelling like you do. What were you harvesting today? Manure?"

Daniel jumped. His fingers grazed the bottom of the bucket, but Vincent lifted it higher. "You're going to have to do better than that."

Ricky's stomach burned with anger as the boy crouched lower, preparing to jump again. He'd witnessed Vincent's bullying before, and when he was younger, he'd been the target of it on more than one occasion. He stepped from the line and held out his bathing bucket. "You can borrow mine, Daniel."

Daniel wiped away his tears and reached for the bucket, but Vincent snatched it from Ricky's hand and pushed Ricky to the ground. A sharp breath burst from Ricky's mouth and gravel tore into his palms as he fell back on the dirt path.

"Wait your turn with the other babies," Vincent said. He then turned again to Daniel. "Now you have two buckets to jump for."

Tears slid down Daniel's round cheeks.

Ignoring the sting of cuts on his hands, Ricky pushed himself up from the ground. "Leave him alone."

Vincent laughed and shoved him again. Ricky stumbled back, but managed to stay on his feet. He drew in a shaky breath.

"Aw, what's the matter?" Vincent taunted. "Did I hurt your feelings, baby?"

Ricky felt children staring at him from all sides. The teens behind Vincent laughed and jeered.

"I think I see a tear!"

"Does the baby need his mama?"

The rest of the kids watched in silence. Humiliation and anger simmered behind Ricky's eyes, and his hands trembled in fear. He balled them into fists, hoping no one noticed.

"I'm not a baby." His voice wasn't as loud or strong as he'd hoped, but it was steady.

Vincent leaned in closer. "What was that, baby?" "I'm not a baby," Ricky repeated, his voice gaining strength from his anger.

Vincent spread his arms wide and splayed his fingers in invitation. "Then what are you waiting for?" Lifting his chin, Ricky stepped forward and tensed in anticipation of the first strike. Vincent laughed and moved to shove Ricky again, but Patrick stepped between them.

"I'm not a baby," Ricky's brother said, staring down the bully. "Why don't you try pushing me?"

Vincent stepped back at the threatening tone in Patrick's voice.

"Well," Patrick said, "what are you waiting for?"

Vincent glanced back at his friends, but they'd all moved away, so he dropped Ricky's bucket at Patrick's feet. "You're not worth it." Then, turning away, he stalked back toward his village.

With the excitement over, the children returned to the task of bathing.

"Thank you," Daniel sniffed, wiping the back of his hand under his nose.

Ricky gave him his bucket, and Daniel joined the children at the well.

"You all right?" Patrick asked when they were alone.

"Yes," Ricky said, wiping his hands against his thighs to clean the blood and calm the trembling. "Every night it's a new kid. You'd think he'd get bored."

"It makes him feel big."

"He is big. He's almost as tall as Baba."

"He may be big, but he obviously doesn't feel big." Patrick took Ricky's hands in his and flipped them over to inspect the cuts. With the same careful precision he used when fixing the villagers' broken possessions, he picked bits of gravel from the deeper scrapes on Ricky's palms. "He thinks acting like a jerk will make him powerful and earn him respect."

"No one respects Vincent," Ricky mumbled. "No one even likes him."

Patrick extracted the last piece of gravel from his brother's palms. "True, but they fear him."

"Not you. Did you see his face when you told him to try and push you? I thought he was going to have to take another bath."


Excerpted from Soldier Boy by Keely Hutton. Copyright © 2017 Keely Hutton. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Author's Note,
A Ugandan Lullaby,
1. Samuel 2006,
2. Ricky 1987,
3. Samuel,
4. Ricky,
5. Samuel,
6. Ricky,
7. Ricky,
8. Samuel,
9. Ricky,
10. Ricky,
11. Samuel,
12. Ricky,
13. Ricky,
14. Samuel,
15. Ricky,
16. Ricky,
17. Samuel,
18. Ricky,
19. Ricky,
20. Samuel,
21. Ricky,
22. Ricky,
23. Samuel,
24. Ricky,
25. Ricky,
26. Samuel,
27. Ricky,
28. Ricky,
29. Samuel,
30. Ricky,
31. Ricky,
32. Samuel,
33. Ricky,
34. Ricky,
35. Samuel,
36. Ricky,
37. Ricky,
38. Samuel,
39. Ricky,
40. Ricky,
41. Samuel,
42. Ricky,
43. Ricky,
44. Samuel,
45. Ricky,
46. Ricky,
47. Samuel,
48. Ricky,
49. Samuel,
About the Author,

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