This debut, published in 2009 in the UK, chronicles in devastating detail the kidnapping, incarceration and torture of an ordinary teenager six months after 9/11.
Born in England to immigrant parents, Khalid, 15, is an avid soccer fan and fair-to-middling student. He enjoys online gaming with a Pakistani cousin, but he has no desire to visit Pakistan himself and resents having to join a family trip to Karachi, There, through a convoluted but plausible chain of events, he’s mistaken for a terrorist, abducted and sent to Kandahar, Afghanistan, then to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. During Khalid’s two-year ordeal under U.S. control, he encounters other innocent victims of the War on Terror who’ve been subjected to torture, including waterboarding. Their jailors range from sadistic to indifferent, though a few manifest detached compassion. Khalid’s experience in “enemy combatant” limbo is equally harrowing, demonstrating that helplessness and boredom can be torture, too. However, in showing readers only innocent victims, Perera effectively narrows the argument against torture to its inefficiency and unreliability. The case for a total ban requires showing why torture is wrong even when victims aren’t “pure.”Nonetheless, this gripping look at a poorly defined war’s unintended consequences uniquely challenges readers to reexamine common beliefs and ask searching questions about means and ends. (author’s note, timeline, discussion guide) (Fiction. 13 & up)