Someone Else's War
"This is not our war. This is someone else's war."
A Young Adult novel by Rose Christo.
Matteo Ta'anari, a fourteen-year-old Muslim boy living in the heart of Uganda, is swept up in the throes of civil war when his little brother, nine-year-old Kalid, is kidnapped by the Lord's Resistance Army to fight as a soldier. Terrified but determined, Matteo hatches a plan to join the army as a willing combatant, find his missing little brother, and bring him home safe. But Matteo's inner nature is peaceful, and as he is forced to murder fellow Muslims, Matteo's heart and conscience both suffer for it.
Yet as Matteo witnesses monstrosity after monstrosity, his desire for peace grows ever stronger. Matteo comes to care deeply for the boys and girls in his regiment, and once he realizes that his fellow child soldiers hate fighting as much as he does, but have become desensitized to the violence, Matteo burdens himself with the unlikely task of uniting all thirty thousand of them in a rebellion, coming up with creative ways to free his newfound friends without bloodshed.
- Actual Pacifist: Matteo.
- Adult Fear: Your child is kidnapped and trained to be a Human Shield for the local rabble-rousing church militants. Even if he doesn't die, he's changed for life--childhood gone, innocence shattered, his body a haunted shell, his peace of mind violated by the things he's seen and done against his will. And you thank God your child isn't a girl.
- Adults Are Useless: Played straight, inverted, averted, and subverted at every possible chance.
- Anyone Can Die
- Bilingual Bonus: Abdel and Nyumba are both from DR Congo, where the national language is French. In a segment where they're talking to each other in French, their ages are revealed (twelve and eleven).
- There are many, many more within the narration itself. Indigenous words like "zeer," "umbuyu," and "Shing'weng'we" are left untranslated, and it's up to the reader to figure them out by context.
- Body Horror: Matteo undergoes a severe amount of physical trauma--and gets right back up every time.
- Bury Your Gays: It's mentioned that the LRA hates homosexuals about as much as they hate Muslims, and it's strongly implied that Marunde is gay.
"There's no reason for you to come with us!"
"There isn't? Muslims aren't the only people the LRA like to kill by the hundreds."
- If true, this would qualify him for Invisible to Gaydar.
- Catch Phrase: One could probably make a drinking game out of the number of times Matteo says "Inshallah" (or "God willing").
- Matteo uses "God is good" to bookend the novel. This is actually a Muslim prayer known as the Takbir.
- Chekhov's Gun: Matteo's mother's necklace.
- Chekhov's Skill: Ruth's culinary knowledge. Very early on, she mentions as an afterthought that cassava root is poisonous uncooked. Guess what the final weapon against the LRA turns out to be?
- Child Soldiers
- Church Militant: The Lord's Resistance Army wants an Africa devoid of any religion but Christianity.
- Crapsack World: Actually, it's a very beautiful world, at least environmentally; it just happens to be set against a backdrop of constant violence and death.
- Darkest Hour: When Jade, Sarai, Marunde, and ten thousand of the children Matteo had been hoping to save all die at the Achwa River massacre.
- Dead Little Sister: Asher has a dead older sister, who was killed when they tried to escape the LRA together six years ago. Her death has crippled him with fear and prevented him from making another escape attempt.
- Also at the end of the book, Luo reveals that Kalid has been dead since day one.
- Otto probably applies, too. He has two brothers and a sister, but he is only ever reunited with the eldest brother, Thomas, while a friend of Thomas' remarks, "I thought your whole family was dead."
- Earn Your Happy Ending
- Downer Ending: Matteo saves not even half of the amount of children he had hoped to save, and his little brother has been dead all along. But Matteo himself sees it as a happy ending because he saved someone.
- Empathic Environment: The rain at the end of the story.
- Face Heel Turn: Auley
- Five-Man Band
- Foreign Queasine: When Matteo finds out that the Child Soldiers' diet mostly consists of mealworms and other still-living vermin. He gets over it fairly quickly however.
- Forgiveness: Most definitely the main theme of the novel. Especially poignant with Matteo's realization that Lieutenant Luo is not an evil person, but the product of an evil childhood
- Freudian Trio: Matteo, Ruth, and Asher
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: Inverted; Asher is severely disfigured from a machete wound while Luo merely has a slender scar running through his eye socket; Asher turns out to be a reliable ally and a loyal friend while Luo is often the one giving Matteo his daily beatings.
- Later on, Matteo sustains immense scarring of his own; he is easily as disfigured as Asher, if not more.
- Gray Eyes: Jeremiah and Lucy. This is how Matteo realizes that Lucy is Jeremiah's mother.
- Green Eyes: Both Matteo and Kalid have them. They're visual proof that the boys have North African blood in them, as it's not entirely uncommon for Arabs in that region to have green eyes.
- Heel Face Turn: Lieutenant Luo
- Human Shield: Why the LRA relies on child soldiers to do the bulk of their fighting. Specifically, the people they're looking to kill are good people, and good people will hesitate to gun down a scared seven-year-old boy.
- Important Haircut: Ruth, who eventually starts passing herself off as a boy.
- Kidanova: Otto has the makings of one.
- La Résistance
- Meaningful Name: "Panga" is both a local nickname for a machete and a specific type of fish. Because Panga is both bumbling and freakishly competent at his job, both meanings are equally valid.
- Matteo means "Gift from God."
- Mismatched Eyes: Sarai has one brown eye, one blue.
- Naive Newcomer: Matteo and Auley start off as this.
- Nausea Fuel: When Matteo finds out what happens to children who try to run from the LRA...after they've been killed.
- No Name Given: Ruth is known as "The girl with the downcast eyes" for a significant portion of the novel because Matteo can't work up the nerve to ask her name. Many, many other characters--the majority, in fact--are known only by first name. Some characters are known only by a nickname: "Panga," for example, means "machete" and indicates that the eponymous character is lethal in battle, while the boy everyone calls "Lazy" has a problem falling asleep in the middle of duty. Some characters, like the children in the Amal regiment, discard their real names and take up nicknames to distance themselves from the lives they can never go back to. Lieutenant Luo and Mrs. Alowo are known only by their last names but Luo's first name is revealed to be David by Lucy, who grew up with him. Marunde outright refuses to offer his surname. And it's not until the very end that Auley and Ruth get last names: Zuma and Mallory.
- No Periods, Period: Averted.
- Orphan's Ordeal
- Puppy Love: Matteo and Ruth.
- Reluctant Warrior: Matteo; arguably all of the children except Auley.
- Running Gag: Auley's fear of lions.
- Sex Slave: What happens to the girls in the LRA.
- STD Immunity: Averted; sexually transmitted diseases are mentioned as a recurring hazard, Marunde even wishing that Joseph Kony would contract one. At one point Matteo considers pretending that Nyumba has HIV to get an adult soldier to leave her alone. He goes with the "She's really a boy" angle instead (which might actually be true).
- Averted again with Nami; the vaginal infection that eventually kills her is probably some kind of STD.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Otto
- Troubling Unchildhood Behavior: Mostly for Asher and Otto. Both times it's shown to be a facade they picked up from the adults bossing them around.
- True Beauty Is on the Inside: A touching example between Matteo and Ruth. Ruth's appearances are described in unflattering ways that leave the reader with very little doubt that she is an ugly girl, by most conventions. Matteo holds such a fond opinion of her that he only ever sees her as beautiful and doesn't understand others' remarks to the contrary.
- Truth in Television
- Tyke Bomb: Children who are born to the female captives get automatically thrown into the army themselves, raised to fight as soon as they're capable of hand-eye coordination. Jeremiah, the youngest of the Child Soldiers, is only seven. The adults only ever talk to him if they need him to do something for them. As a result, no one ever taught him how to read or write, what a mother is, or that people who die aren't just "sleeping."
- What Do You Mean It's for Kids?
- Wouldn't Hurt a Child: See Human Shield above.
- Some of the LRA's targets avert this, but they're in the minority.
- 0% Approval Rating: The LRA more or less has one of these, as in real life, unless you are an overly zealous Christian who thinks no one in Africa should be allowed to practice a religion other than Christianity. However, they're still winning the war initially by a combination of guerrilla warfare and their enemies being unwilling to murder the child soldiers they send out on the frontlines.
- A zeer is a sort of miniature refrigerator that doesn't require electricity. Umbuyu is a sweet-and-sour candy made by coating baobab fruit with sugar. Shing'weng'we is a monster from East African folklore who swallowed everyone in the world until the one person he missed, a brave young boy, slit open his belly and freed them all. Arguably, Someone Else's War is a less allegorical interpretation of the same folk tale.