Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 12 to 18
- Grade: 8 to 12
- Reading age: 12 to 18
A heart-wrenching tale of selfless love and the powerful desire to survive.
In an unnamed country, when little Kai is brought to the orphanage run by Bell, a fearsome Englishwoman whose dedication to her charges is unflinching, an older child, Pax, immediately takes him under his wing. It soon becomes apparent that Kai is a brilliant child, and given the right circumstances, could go on to achieve great things.
Penniless and living amidst political strife and constant uncertainty, the children are nonetheless taken care of and protected—until Bell dies and they are left on their own. Pax is determined to keep Kai safe, and to make sure he gets the education he deserves. But life on the streets is tough—and dangerous.
In a desperate attempt to make enough money to keep Kai in school, Pax agrees to work for a shady character known only as Mister. Mister sends Pax on a “special” mission—carry a very heavy box to a pre-arranged location, and wait. At the very last minute, Pax realizes that the box contains a bomb, which explodes, killing and maiming hundreds of people.
Pax and Kai escape the deadly explosion, only to be arrested soon after and charged with terrorism. What follows is a descent into the hellish prison where brutal guards stop at nothing to make Pax talk.
This haunting novel brings home the tragic situation in which children in over 40 countries are tortured with impunity. But it also speaks to the strength of love in the most dire situations.
About the author
Sharon E. McKay is the award-winning author of many books based on real events, including War Brothers: The Graphic Novel and Thunder Over Kandahar. She was also named a Canadian War Artist and spent time in Afghanistan embedded with the Canadian troops. She lives in Prince Edward Island.
- Nominated, Red Maple Award nomination, Ontario Library Association
- Joint winner, Skipping Stones Honor Book
- Unknown, Best Books for Kids & Teens, Canadian Children's Book Centre
- Short-listed, Manitoba Young Reader’s Choice Award nomination
- Winner, Ann Connor Brimer Award for Children’s Literature, Atlantic Book Awards
- Joint winner, USBBY Outstanding International Books List
- Unknown, Best Bets List, Top Ten, Ontario Library Association
“Another gut-wrenching tale from McKay.”
Kirkus Reviews, 02/15
“A powerful, challenging, and courageous book.”
Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada
“McKay always does a wonderful job of writing about human rights and injustice where children are involved.”
Mabel’s Fables Raves, 05/15/15
“A strong choice for those seeking something meaty for middle schoolers . . . A great conversation starter.”
School Library Journal, 04/15
“With her starkly vivid prose, gripping scenes, and affecting characters, McKay is a master storyteller.”
National Reading Campaign, 05/29/15