Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Dec 2019

Member Reviews

Rusty Young was featured on 60 Minutes Australia for his first novel, ‘Marching Powder,’ which has been adapted to film.  ‘Colombiano’ is his second book.  A graduate from the University of New South Wales, where he studied commerce and law, Young became interested in the story of child soldiers while living and working in Colombia.  In the author's prologue to ‘Colombiano,’ Young tells readers that this story is a combination of fact and fiction.  As he listened to the stories of the child soldiers, Young became emotionally charged with their stories.  

Pedro Gutiérrez, fifteen years old, lives with his mother and father on their finca in Llorona, a fertile land also good for cattle farming.  All he cares about is spending time with his girlfriend, Camila, going fishing with his father, and getting good grades at school.  Palillo is his best friend, mischievous, but loyal, a step down in social structure because his family owns no land.  Pedro knows that the Guerrillas are around.  They killed Palillo’s father, but their violence has not directly touched his world...yet.  Pedro’s classmates mostly think of the Guerrillas as benevolent because they kidnap wealthy people, holding them for ransom, and steal their lands and farms, as well as, stealing from stores and transportation trucks, giving much to the poor.  

Several events will usher Pedro into a world, not of his choosing, a dark, violent place where there is no safety.  A neighbor is killed, Palillo tries to join the Paramilitaries, and Padre Rojas is called back to Bogotá.  Padre Rojas had a sharp tongue and didn’t mind reprimanding bad behavior, no matter if it was the Guerillas or the Paramilitaries.  He was a force that held things in balance; now he is gone.  The town is becoming more dangerous; the Guerrillas ever bolder, until the day that twelve of them approach Pedro and his Papá.  Pedro witnesses his father’s execution (no spoiler, it’s in the book blurb).  Without a home, land, or money, Pedro joins the Autodefensas, a paramilitary group that fights the Guerillas.  Along with Palillo, they are sent to a training camp called La 50, a nightmarish place where savage men teach brutality and violence.  But, revenge has become Pedro’s modus operandi, so he tolerates everything that happens, and begins the metamorphosis of a child soldier.

This is a lengthy book, almost 700 pages, but I stayed interested.  There is graphic violence, which is very disturbing, so I had to have some breaks from the book, but always with the intention to go back and find out what happens to Pedro.  Because of this story, I found some clarification of the roles of Guerillas and Paramilitary (or AutoDefensas), which had previously been confusing.  Guerillas also espouse Communism, and for this reason, are often hated.  Besides, these two groups, there is also the National Army of Colombia.  The author did a good job of detailing the roles of all three, but believe me, there is some overlapping as the reader will find.  The role of drugs post-Pablo Escobar also proves to be huge, and how this shakes out for a member of Escobar’s Medellín cartel is fascinating.  While Pedro’s trade is revenge, many that he will meet will trade in violence, brutality, greed, lies, and corruption.  

Many of these young soldiers (male and females) are desperate for money to send to their families, or desperate to escape from bad situations.  Little do they know that what they are getting into is a horror story.  Suffering from PTSD and with no options once in, they ride the roller coaster of a hellish creation.  This is a morality tale of a young man on a quest for vengeance.  Who is the fiend?  Who is the monster?  

Thanks to Havelock & Baker Publishing, Lily Green, and the author, Rusty Young for the ARC in exchange for an honest opinion.
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I have to blaim thank Don Winslow for my interest in THIS book.
In The Power of the Dog I read about Colombian role in the drug war and when I got the possibility to read about EXACTLY this role in the drug war I couldn't reject.

Colombiano is a VERY thrilling, heartbreaking, shocking, brutal and powerful novel, and even it is a fictional work it appears VERY real.

I have to confess, I know practically nothing about Colombia (except that Shakira came from Colombia, but I still can't imagine how could she survived this county!)

Colombia appears like a different universe to an average European citizen. Well, at least for me. Colombia MEANT (means) DRUGS, CARTELS, DEATH, in other words, not a country you can plan for your next vacation.

I remember the headlines about the female politician that was rescued by Colombian security forces six and a half years later after her kidnapping. For me (as an average European citizen) Colombia is(was) a country I try to avoid. So faaar away, so different from an European standard, so faaaar from European territory to care about...

Rusty Young made this country REAL for me, he made its citizens REAL, HUMAN, those I care about. His book became in many ways a real eye-opener for me.

He told about a horrible and bloody Colombian conflict through the eyes of Pedro Gutiérrez, a normal teenager of a middle class farm family, who dreamed about studying and marring his beautiful girl friend, and whose simple but happy life ended on that day when Guerrilla soldiers execute his father in front of him and his mother, confiscated the family's farm and expelled them from their land. At that day he swore to himself to kill the men who did it and joined the Paramilitary group becoming a child solder.

Well-written gripping plot, with good developed characters, thrilling, gruesome, provoked and frighteningly real. ( Talking about stolen childhood...)

Difficult to put down, captivating from start to finish, very authentic.
This book made me very sad, and I thought about it, about the characters, and googled about this terrible conflict days after finishing it.
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"Colombiano" by Rusty Young is a very long novel, at nearly 700 pages. At times, it is repetitive and in the opinion of this reader it could have used have serious editing. Putting aside those concerns, it is an engrossing novel, with richly developed characters, and a plot that is both relevant and edge of your seat mesmerizing.

The story depicts the conflict between the army and the Guerrilla groups in Colombia and the horrifying recruitment of children into these groups and the insane violence they encounter. The story, though fictional, is based on interviews the author conducted with these child soldiers, and the descriptions are so vivid and the story so compelling that one cannot imagine the author relied on just the interviews. Writing like this usually, if not always, comes from real life experiences.

The protagonist is 15 year old Pedro Gutiérrez. He is the son of a farmer, who he loves dearly, and loves helping out on the farm and one day hopes to inherit the property. He also has a girlfriend named Camila who he also loves. In short, he is a happy fifteen year old, but all that changes when his father is executed in front of him by Guerrilla soldiers, and to make things worse he and his mother are banished from their farm and left with no income. 

Pedro swears revenge and together with his best friend Palillo, they join a illegal Paramilitary black ops organization and, in turn, it turns him into the killer he needs to be in order to revenge the death of his father. 

We follow Pedro as he moves up the ranks in the paramilitary organization, experiencing one crazy, intense mission after another, but it’s his determination to revenge and kill those who took part in his father’s death that carries this fascinating story to its conclusion.

This is a really good book and it is hard not to get emotionally involved, and it is not all violence and killing, but at times quite tender as Camila is always somewhere in the background.

I was asked if I would like to review this book by Lily Green at Havelock & Baker Publishing. I said yes, and this is an honest review
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Wow. What an intense read.

The novel begins with a teenage boy, Pedro, living as much of a "normal" life on his family farm as he can with the ongoing civil war between the guerrillas, the Colombian government & private armies. After Pedro is forced to watch the execution of his father by the guerrilla, he vows revenge against his father's murderers. Pedro drops out of school to join the private army, the Autodefencas, to fight the guerrilla forces. 

The story follows Pedro from the age of 15-18 & his rise in the ranks of the Autodefencas. We follow his friends from back home as well as his fellow soldiers. We are privy to the inner workings of the trainings of a private army, their leaders & their missions. We also follow Pedro's mission to avenge his father's execution by utilizing his rank in the Autodefencas to hunt down the 5 men responsible for his father's death. 

This novel is not an easy read, but a good one as you are pulled into Pedro's life from the very beginning.  Many times I had to remind myself that these are 14/15/16 year olds committing these acts of violence. What makes this novel more unsettling is that, while a fictionalized account, some parts of the story are based on real events pulled from interviews with real child soldiers. It is a well-written & researched account as the author draws from his own experiences in a U.S. government counter-terrorism program in anti-kidnapping & historical research. 

*Many thanks to Lily Green & publisher Havelock And Baker for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review."
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Colombiano is probably the best book I have read this year, and it is a year where I have read several good books. A story about innocence being quickly lost in the face of tragedy & violence, though love still offers hope. It is an extremely well written and powerful story.

Llorona is a small town where the Guerillas (a violent mob leading to Communist philosophy) hold sway, with the Colombian police and army being especially weak. Col Buitrago has the right intentions but does not have the resources to keep the Guerillas at bay. 

Pedro is a young lad who cannot wait to get to 16 years of age, when he can deepen his relationship with his girlfriend Camila. His family soon faces tragedy as his father, a peace loving & respected man in town, is shot by the Guerillas in front of his eyes. Their property is confiscated and his mother moves with Pedro’s Uncle Leo. Pedro is consumed by a burning rage, and is determined to avenge his fathers murder. The Autodefensas are a rival gang who hold sway over other parts of the country, and were formed primarily to resist the Guerillas, with landowners and people impacted by the crimes of the Guerillas supporting them. Pedro and his friend Palillo (who has an abusive step father) join the Autodefensas. 

Pedro’s life turns into one where violence soon emerges as a way of life. Pedro and Palillo do make some new friendships (especially Palillo’s relationship with Piolin), but Pedro drifts apart from Camila, much to his agony. As Pedro, with Palillo’s help, seeks out his fathers murderers, he still struggles to find peace in the face of terrible violence. 

This is a large book, but moves fast and is an excellent read, other than being an important one. The vicious cycle which violence creates is explored very well. A lot of the violence though is quite raw, brutal (probably very realistic though) and far more than what I have been used to reading. 

A book I strongly recommend.
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A riveting story of life in Columbia through the eyes of a teenage boy.  It takes you out of your comfort zone and makes your troubles seem like a breeze.
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Colombiano is an account of the horrific violence endured by the citizens of Colombia in their decades old civil war fought between the government and the socialist, terrorist organization FARC. There are paramilitary groups also involved who are supposedly on the side of the government, but are really just another group of terrorists, as illustrated by this novel.
A young boy named Pedro is the main character, who having watched his father be executed by FARC, determines to kill the men who did it. He joins a paramilitary group and goes through the brutal, gruesome indoctrination that desensitizes him to torture and murder. From age 15 to 18, we watch as he becomes just as corrupt as the men who his father despised.
An interesting and action-packed read, Colombiano was also too long and repetitive. The ending was particularly torturous, as there is so much follow-up, it becomes anti-climatic. I received a copy of this book from Havelock Baker Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for an open and honest review.
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This novel was sent to me in exchange for a fair an honest review. 

Wow. This novel was sent to me a couple of months ago and it took me a while to get to it because I was in the midst of what can only be called a reading marathon as my online holds at my public library were checking themselves out so fast I could barely keep up. 

I had read Shantaram, by David Gregory Roberts and the publisher of Colombiano thought that this novel might be of some interest. I was skeptical but willing to read it. Shantaram had been a LONG, arduous read and Colombiano clocks in at over 700 pages making it the second longest novel I have read this year..... possibly ever.....

Colombiano, however, did not feel like a 700 page book. From the prologue to the glossary I was hooked. Rusty Young has created a stunning tale based off of true stories from child soldiers that fought on both sides of the war in Colombia. He has woven truth with fiction and put out a breath taking story detailing a misguided quest for revenge that led to great military triumphs in a decades long conflict. 

There were a few times where the story took an obvious turn into fiction where hardened Guerilla soldiers displayed uncharacteristic empathy and a willingness to discuss their motives, connections, and rationalizations. I would be deeply shocked to discover that those moments were truths in the story. I believe that a lot of Pedro's character development was dependent on the humanization of his targets and victims in a way that made him reconsider his mission. Carraquemada, a hardened Guerilla commander literally raised in the jungle at war, would never have divulged as much information as he did when confronted by Pedro. 

But then again, this is part of the allure of the story. We don't know what is real and what is merely fiction and that is what makes this novel so spectacular. Rusty Young has delivered the stories of numerous former child soldiers and given them a spotlight without the documentary style story. He draws you into the characters so thoroughly that you a rooting for some truly sinister people. 

I adored Trigeno. He literally murdered five teenagers in cold blood as his introduction to the story but by the time Pedro is back in Llorona you also feel like he is a warm, fatherly figure with the best of intentions for the region, the country and the people of Colombia. 

Pedro's pain and his revenge driven obsession with his fathers killers isn't horrifying, you are cheering him on hoping he succeeds, because Rusty describes his anguish so that you can feel it too. McGyver's death in the river broke my heart. He was a side character with a limited role but he believed in his cause and he believed in his family in AUC and he died trying to protect and save them. I won't even get started on Nono and my love for his little character. 

Overall, I would read this book again and recommend to all my fellow readers.
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This is a great big book. 


Is it a great-big book or a great big-book? That's debatable. 

Despite the short chapters, it still reads like a great-big book which makes for a less than great big-book.

For me to really enjoy a great-big book I need to connect with the characters on a cellular level. I felt no investment in Pedro and his plight to avenge his father's murder and that disconnect lies solely in the lap of the authors inability to humanize this young character. 

This is a fascinating story with tremendous potential and I have no regrets investing my time to read it. But it felt more like a perfunctory lesson than epic storytelling. 

It's a good great-big book. 

3.5 Stars rounded up ⭐

** Thank you to Lily from Havelock and Baker Publishing for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.  **
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Thank you  to NetGalley, Havelock & Baker Publishing, and the author Rusty Young for an advanced copy for my review

This was a powerhouse of a book, that caught my attention right away
A strong and powerful book, that I could not put down right from the beginning.
It was both informative, and interesting.
Pedro Gutierrez was a normal fifteen-year-old family boy, who loved spending time going fishing with his father, attending church with his mother, and hanging out with his girlfriend, Camila.
A book full of tragedy, and love in Columbia which is ruled by the drug trade and power
Young soldiers whom are trained from an early age.

I found that I was totally enveloped by the story and the lives of these young soldier trainees

However as the book developed, it was just too long and I stared to loose interest. At over 800 pages it became a bit of a struggle to continue on. Although I really enjoyed the story, I feel it could have all been said with a few more pages

However a book I would recommend, and did enjoy reading
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When posed with summarising this book into a review I feel a little overwhelmed.
First off, this is more of a journey that we have been privileged to experience, a journey of pain, love, revenge, hatred, enlightenment and atonement.

This is a really powerfully written book. Rusty Young opted to relay an eye opening account of child soldiers in Columbia in a fictional format rather than through a documentary styled account.  Although the sad reality is that no further sensationalism was required. This is a portrayal of real-life, of what happens to society when a war funded by corruption and drugs uses lies and propaganda to lure children into believing they are fighting for a just cause. And even if they don’t choose a side themselves, one would be picked and the journey of desensitization and mind-washing begin.

Unfortunately there are no winners in this war, there are no just causes. People from both sides share the same stories and backgrounds, the same beliefs and morals. They have simply been indoctrinated by one group before the other.  

Columbiano does have a light at the end of the tunnel though. We know that there are stories of children escaping this turmoil. That there are people out there, like Rusty himself, that are committed to fighting for humanity.
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Gritty, Raw, Powerful, Captivating, Thought provoking and gut wrenching.

What happens when you really don't have a choice? What happens when choices are made for you? What happens when your life changes in an instant? What happens when you make a simple decision and it changes your life and outlook.

Pedro Gutiérrez is a happy teenager living in Columbia. He spends his days going to school, fishing, spending time with his best friend, Palillo and his girlfriend, Camilla. His world instantly changes when Guerrilla soldiers execute his father in front of him. Vowing vengeance, he goes on a journey that takes him from being a happy teen to a child soldier in a paramilitary where he is trained to shot, fight and kill.  Vengeance is always in his mind as he perfects his skills in hopes of tracking down the man who killed his father.

It is safe to say that this is not your average coming of age story. There are parts (many) in this book that are quite gruesome but are important for the story as these things are real.  Blending fact with fiction, this book looks at how child soldiers are trained, and used to fight battles over land territory, politics, cocaine, and power.

How far will he go before he can say "vengeance is mine?"  This is a HUGE book and at times it did feel it's size. But it also felt powerful, sad, realistic and shocking. It's sad to sit and think that there are child soldiers in many parts of the world who have lost their childhood and innocence for a life of violence.  That there are places where a good man does what he feels in his heart is the right thing to do and pays for it with his life?  This book is very realistic and visual. It is also well written, well thought out, perfectly paced and researched. This book took me though several feelings and emotions. 

This one was hard to put down and had my attention from the start. 

Thank you to Rusty Young, Lily from Havelock & Baker Publishing and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.
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I knew something about the situation in Colombia through films and news about organisations such as the Medellin Cartel and Pablo Escobar but this book made the terrible situation that Colombians faced all too real. This is Pedro’s story and his experiences in Autodefensas following the murder of his father by the communist FARC Guerilla. Pedro is 15 (some are as young as 12) when he joins this militia with the intention of seeking revenge against his fathers killers. This is an unrelenting story of killing, cruelty, kidnaps, bombings, treachery and betrayal and of course all too present is control of the supply of cocaine. Pedro becomes a ruthless killer and though his experiences he becomes inured to cruelty and violence to the horror of his girlfriend Camila. The story is fast paced, describes events that beggar belief, they are so awful that it almost takes your breathe away. Pedro doggedly and bravely pursues his fathers killers but along the way makes terrible discoveries about people that he trusts. There is hypocrisy and double dealing in abundance. The ending is good and the situation for Pedro and his family and the area he lives in seems to be improving, so there is cause for some restrained optimism.
My criticism of the book lies with its length (700 pages) and although it’s horribly fascinating it takes grit to stick with it. It’s so unrelenting in the horror although I have to say I am very glad I’ve read it has led to greater understanding of Colombia and its people. 
Overall, a very well written book which is well researched.
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Based on true events, this story of revenge, betrayal, and corruption follows the fictional character Pedro. Growing up in Llorona, a war-torn land who makes good on the promise to kill those who snitch, Pedro witnesses the murder of his father. At fifteen years old, going on sixteen, he joins the Autodefensas in order to extract revenge on the Guerillas who killed his father. However, his alliance with the Autodefensas creates conflicts in his relationships.
It truly is a great story with remarkable characters that endured so much. From the drug trafficking to the kidnappings, I really enjoyed it.

Now, to my technical details! Early on his father is killed and Pedro vows to kill each man who took part in his father’s murder. After this occurs and he joins the paramilitary, Pedro’s training with the Autodefensas is detailed until 24% (on a Kindle). That leaves 25%-97% being the tale of a teenage boy carrying out revenge. It is an 800+ page book, so this was a very drawn-out revenge. It just kept going and going and I took off an entire star because of it. At a certain point (55% for those interested) I wanted the revenge to be over and the story to progress, but Pedro still had more revenge to pursue. Though entertaining and a powerful story, this left me feeling winded as a reader. 

It was full of thoughtful and meaningful prose which caused me to highlight a lot. It has a lot of violence and vulgar content, too: scenes with dead body parts floating in the water, boys calling each other s.o.b’s every few pages, etc. There are a few sex scenes, but the sexy details are not included. 

There are many Spanish words, but most are cognates. However, if you are unfamiliar with basic Spanish words then I recommend reading on a Kindle in order to translate. There is a glossary of Spanish terms at the end, but that seems superfluous to have to flip back and forth.

I recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction and those with multicultural interests. Overall, a great compelling read about a boy soldier in Colombia with many well-researched details. Many thanks to Lily Green at Havelock & Baker Publishing for this copy. All opinions are my own.
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Special thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free, electronic ARC of this novel, received in exchange for an honest review. 
Pedro Gutierrez is a teenager living in Colombia, spending weekends fishing with his dad is his only pastime, that and desperately waiting until his sixteenth birthday, when his girlfriend Camilla has promised to lose her virginity to him. However, that all changes when the Guerrilla forces charge his home and kill his father right in front of him. Desperate for revenge, Pedro risks everything to join the illegal Paramilitary and get justice. As he comes up in the ranks, Pedro begins to realize that his quest for revenge is becoming an obsession and putting everyone he loves at risk. 
“Colombiano” by Rusty Young is a tough book to read. On one hand, the novel is long. Over 800 pages of graphic violence, drug use and guerilla warfare, it is not for the faint of heart. It reads like a non-fiction memoir, although it claims to be fiction novel based on real events, and the reality of this storyline is thought-provoking and eye-opening. 
Pedro is a character that is easy to root for. Although he is struggling to live in a gang-controlled third world country, his passion and desperation for revenge are emotions that anyone can connect with. The story is told from his perspective throughout, and all 800 pages are full of intense action. Young has a talent for storytelling, as his novel is well thought out, his characters are well developed and there is a nice flow to the plot, each chapter segueing nicely into the next. 
This was a difficult novel for me to review. The story was told very well, and I had no problems with the format or the style of the novel. It was full of dramatic elements, and ended in a satisfying way. Based on Young’s storytelling alone, the novel would be a five-star read. 
However, I am not a fan of the non-fiction memoir, and this novel reads like it belongs in this genre. Haltingly real and powerful, the gruesome story of guerrilla warfare in Colombia is not something I would’ve picked up on my own. Had this novel not been passed on to me by the publisher, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. I wanted to see this novel through to the end, as I was invested in Pedro and what his outcome would be, but I also was desperate to finish the 800 pages so I could move on to something else. 
“Colombiano” is a novel that shouldn’t be entered into lightly. It is powerful and violent, and will provide perspective to those of us living our comfortable First World lives. It will teach you something, and open your eyes to the dark evils in other parts of the world, which has its own appeal. For me, this novel was not what I expected, in many ways, but the non-fiction style was a little disappointing and made this story a little “less” than it could have been.
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I have been wrestling with my feelings about this book since the very first chapter, probably even going back to the email I received from the publisher, Havelock, and Baker, offering me a chance to read Colombiano in exchange for an honest review. Before I said yes to their offer, I read the jacket and breezed through a small number of reviews, like any reasonable reader would, to get a sense of what it was I would agree to do. 

On the surface, the task seemed simple; I would be consenting to read a war novel, and I don’t typically read war novels as I have found them to be formulaic. But with this book, I knew there was also a particularly exciting sub-theme; the main character, Pedro Gutierrez, is sixteen years old, which places him as far from the typical war novel hero as he could be placed. (Plus one for reasons to read Colombiano.) In my mind, the question “how can a sixteen-year-old boy possibly carry this war-theme forward” was tantalizing enough that I figured I would have something to focus on if the war theme did indeed become tedious.

And with that bit of calculus done, Pedro and I were off on what I hoped was a grand adventure. 

I settled into the story quickly, learning about the life of a rural Colombian farming community through Pedro’s interaction with his neighbors and friends. They live in Llorona, which on the surface appears to be a quiet, religious farming community. Their life is calm and straightforward, and their ambitions are no different. Pedro will one day take over the farm with his girlfriend Camila, whom he loves deeply, already, at sixteen years of age. Incongruous, but I decided I could look the other way; it helps to suspend disbelief to allow the story to build. (Pedro’s relationship with Camila becomes foundational to the story, so I’m glad I bought it from the beginning.)

Through a series of events, we learn much about the tension in the seemingly quiet Llorona brought about by the local cocaine trade and the Communist Guerillas. Rural life doesn’t provide much in the way of career choices; it appears you are a farmer, a farmhand, or you participate in the production of coca leaves. I’m sure there are other choices, but they seem to be few and far between. According to Pedro and the local populace, the guerillas control the cocaine industry in the region, which also allows them to dictate much of what the local business people are allowed to do.

The Colombian government has a muted presence in the village as well in the form of resident General Buitrago. This should help balance the power of the guerillas, but that isn’t the case. They’ve become nearly toothless due to the rising power of those pesky guerillas. 

The story gets rolling when are introduced to the third leg of the military tripod, the AUC, United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. Pedro is seen talking to a known AUC recruiter in the local market, which is unacceptable in the eyes of the guerilla, and their eyes are everywhere. The guerillas confront Pedro and his father and accuse them of providing the military with water from their farm, which is a major no-no. Pedro is held down by a guerilla commando and forced to watch them execute his father right in their front yard. Pedro and his mother are then banished from their farm and told not to bury Pedro’s father, or there will be repercussions. Now it's on. The story officially begins here. Pedro’s revenge we could call it. I will leave out much of the critical matter since it will likely spoil the story for anyone interested in reading it. 

I will be honest here. As this story was based on actual events,  I had more trouble than I would like dealing with the line between fiction and non-fiction that the reader is forced to straddle. It’s precarious, to say the least. Pedro is introduced to us as a typical sixteen-year-old schoolboy with the concerns that accompany part of life. The transformation he undergoes is remarkable, unbelievable even. If that portion of the tale is the actual truth, this story becomes nothing short of astonishing. For me, though, the suspension of disbelief became like a Husafell Stone, nearly impossible for me to carry. But that is my problem.

The only other problem between me and the page had to do with pacing. Many of the chapters were only one or two pages. While this isn’t a problem in and of itself, in this case, it meant that too much was left unsaid. It looked to me like there were ample opportunities to add some substance to many of the chapters or some more thought to the dialogue. Maybe this was done intentionally since the POV was from that of a teenager. Plausible or not, it was disruptive. I like to settle into the story, the mechanics of that stand with the narrative flow. That flow found me more often toward the end, once the resolution was well on its way, but still too late to make the entire experience pleasurable.
The completion of this story left me with an overall sense of relief. Much of this feeling was due to the subject matter in the book. The content is disturbing to contemplate and to know that a good portion of this book is factual, made my stomach churn. The understanding that people in Colombia live like this is difficult to fathom and terrible to see up close and in detail. I want to thank the publisher once again for allowing me this experience. Regardless of my feelings about the book, I appreciate the opportunity and enjoyed the process very much.
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This was a really good read. It is not great literature nor does it explore the deep psychological impact of involvement in combat. However, the simple language somehow resounds as a story as it would be told by a 15 or 16 year old, and hence it has a feel of authenticity. I had little knowledge of the terrible struggles in Colombia and this book spares no detail. A terrific read.
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*Copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest opinion*

I don't want to lie - this book was hard for me to read. I wasn't even thinking how hard it would be when I agreed to read it. Yes, maybe the characters in it were fictional but you can't argue about the story itself being universally true and from my standpoint, where my country too is torn and divided by war, relatable.

I was blown away by the ease with which the author was able to pull me in and put me by Pedro's side throughout the story. I was in his head the whole time, even when I really didn't want to be.

There's really something to be said about stories that draw from life, you can't ignore and dismiss them as soon as you finish like you can your fiction. They stay with you for a long time, make you think and chew for yourself. That's why, even though I really don't like to leave my fiction bubble, sometimes I need to burst it just a little and books like this are the way to do it. I highly recommend it.

Over and out
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I received an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley, Havelock & Baker Publishing, and the author Rusty Young. 
This was an interesting concept, and I was intrigued to discover more about Colombia and it's tragic drug war history. 
However, it felt much too long, and I really struggled to make my way through it. I agree with some of the other reviewers in their opinion that Young isn't a very natural writer. The dialogue and narrative felt stilted and forced all the way through, and unfortunately the characters felt one-dimensional and undeveloped. 
Hard work, 2.5 stars.
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Many thanks to NetGalley and Havelock & Baker for providing me with this engrossing, intense ARC in return for an honest review. This was a powerful epic which featured violence, family devotion, moral choices, young love, and a country ripped apart. 

 I found the story informative and was totally absorbed. I had been in Colombia a very short time in a small town on the Amazon, but my knowledge of the country was severely limited.  I knew a bit about Pablo Escobar from Netflix, and how the country was the centre of jungle drug labs, cocaine manufacturing and distribution. I was aware of political turmoil, guerrilla insurgents, death squads, kidnapping, which made it a dangerous place. Reading the book gave me a greater understanding of the country, and how it’s people often had to go against their moral values to survive.  

  The almost 700 pages was not a deterrent, as I was gripped by the exciting, suspenseful plot from the beginning. Everything was important to understand the extreme dangers, heartbreaking losses, and the mindsets of the characters.  

Pedro Gutierrez was a normal fifteen-year-old boy who enjoyed helping on the family farm, going fishing with his father, attending church with his mother, and hanging out with his girlfriend, Camila, and with his best friend, Palillo. One terrible day he witnessed his father brutally murdered by guerrilla soldiers. He and his mother were ordered off their farm and forbidden to give the father a religious burial on consecrated grounds. Pedro vowed revenge on his father’s killers.  

 This led Pedro with his friend, Palillo, to voluntarily join the Autodefencas, a paramilitary group where they endured brutal training and rose in the ranks. Pedro witnessed barbaric torture of guerrilla fighters and their deadly retaliation. The training led to a moral descent and hardened him for vengeance for his father’s death. Thoughts of revenge became an obsession. 

Paramilitary groups, which included the Autodefencas, were comprised mainly of wealthy land or business owners who formed private armies and death squads.  Both the paramilitaries and the guerrilla fighters trained and utilized child soldiers. Some were tricked or kidnapped into the militia. Others joined willingly, preferring the training camps to abusive situations at home. 

The Guerrillas consisted mainly of peasants. They claimed to be fighting against poverty and social inequality with the aim of toppling the government and replacing it with communism.  

 The author, Rusty Young, interviewed child soldiers in Colombia. This is a brilliant work of fiction and has a definite ring of truth.
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