Book Review: Girl Soldier

girl soldier coverSome books are what I call “popcorn books”.  You sit down with a bag of freshly-popped Orville Reddenbacher’s and one of those books and before you know it, you’ve not only polished off an entire bag of popcorn, but also a few hundred pages of brain candy.

Let me be very clear about this: Girl Soldier is NOT a popcorn book.

In fact, it’s so far from being a popcorn book that the corn kernel hasn’t even been planted yet.

And when you sit down to read it you can only read a chapter or two at a time because:

1) your brain is fried trying to follow the social/political/religious roots of the Ugandan civil war/unrest/conflict, and

b) your heart is broken wide open and shattered into a million pieces as you realize these atrocities are really happening.

I started this book about 4 years ago, between my first and second trips to Uganda.  It was recommended reading as part of our preparation for our visit to the Village of Hope.  Because many of the children in the Village – and the IDP camps around Gulu – experienced what Grace describes in her book, our leaders felt it would give us insight and help us to be more aware and sensitive to their needs.

Try as I might, I could not finish it.

But this summer, I was determined.  This conflict is real.  These children are real.  Their stories are true…and truly awful, horrific, and unimaginably traumatizing. I was determined to remember.  I was determined to remain aware.

I was determined to still care.

This book is co-written by Grace Akallo, a survivor, and Faith McDonnell, her American friend and companion who has traveled with Grace as she has shared her story across the United States, even in front of the United Nations.  Grace’s story, though difficult to read and impossible to imagine, is not one of bitterness or anger or hatred, but rather forgiveness and love.  Despite her background, her mission is not so much to retaliate, but to educate, to inform, and to stir us to action – to do something to keep Grace’s experience from being repeated on other children caught in this crisis.  By sharing her first-hand account, and including background and anecdotal information from Faith, Girl Soldier provides not only a comprehensive, factual description of the political/social civil unrest in Northern Uganda, but also an emotional cry for help.

It may not be a popcorn book, but it certainly left me hungering to do more.