What chances have abandoned children to survive the hazards of life on the mean streets of an unnamed developing country riven by civil war?
Here, slim and none. In a novel shot through with suffering both physical and psychological, small, hard-won victories alternate with vicious reversals of fortune. Teenage Pax’s years in a slum’s squalid group home seem almost idyllic after the death of the overwhelmed English woman who had raised him forces him to flee police and scavengers. With him he has only the home’s cash box—soon stolen—and 6-year-old fellow orphan Kai. In desperation, Pax takes a job making mysterious deliveries for a man known only as “Mister.” When one package turns out to be a terrorist’s bomb, Pax is arrested, beaten, tortured over months and sentenced to death. The narrative sometimes takes on a rhetorical slant (“Those who torture are damaged forever. They are filled with poison”), and a 10-years-later epilogue starring Kai as the adopted son of a British couple and a gifted Oxford student reads like a tacked-on happy ending. Still, though readers may find Pax’s delirious visions near the end more distracting than poignant, they are likely to be as moved by his fierce, selfless devotion to Kai as by the story’s brutal and troubling events.
Another gut-wrenching tale from McKay (War Brothers, 2014, etc.) focusing on children victimized by war and poverty. (Fiction. 12-14)