Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 14 to 18
- Grade: 9 to 12
- Reading age: 14 to 18
As a child in a small rural village in Sierra Leone, Mariatu Kamara lived peacefully surrounded by family and friends. Rumors of rebel attacks were no more than a distant worry.
But when 12-year-old Mariatu set out for a neighboring village, she never arrived. Heavily armed rebel soldiers, many no older than children themselves, attacked and tortured Mariatu. During this brutal act of senseless violence they cut off both her hands.
Stumbling through the countryside, Mariatu miraculously survived. The sweet taste of a mango, her first food after the attack, reaffirmed her desire to live, but the challenge of clutching the fruit in her bloodied arms reinforced the grim new reality that stood before her. With no parents or living adult to support her and living in a refugee camp, she turned to begging in the streets of Freetown.
As told to her by Mariatu, journalist Susan McClelland has written the heartbreaking true story of the brutal attack, its aftermath and Mariatu’s eventual arrival in Toronto where she began to pull together the pieces of her broken life with courage, astonishing resilience and hope. Now in her twenties, Mariatu Kamara has been named a UNICEF Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict; a Voices of Courage Honoree by the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children; and has established The Mariatu Foundation, which aims to offer much needed refuge to the ongoing victims of the civil war in Sierra Leone. A documentary about child victims of war, featuring Mariatu, is in the works.
About the authors
Now 22 years old, Mariatu Kamara has been named a UNICEF Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict; a Voices of Courage Honoree by the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children; and has established The Mariatu Foundation, which aims to offer much needed refuge to the ongoing victims of the civil war in Sierra Leone. A documentary about child victims of war, featuring Mariatu, is in the works.
Susan Elizabeth McClelland is an award-winning journalist and recipient of the 2005 Amnesty International Media Award. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.
- Runner-up, Book of the Year, Silver, Foreword Reviews
- Joint winner, Best Books for Kids & Teens, starred selection, Canadian Children’s Book Centre
- Joint winner, Tayshas High School Reading List
- Joint winner, National Parenting Publications Award
- Joint winner, White Ravens Collection, International Youth Library, Munich
- Runner-up, Nautilus Book Awards, Silver
- Joint winner, IBBY Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities
- Joint winner, Next Generation Indie Book Award
- Joint winner, CBC’s Young Canada Reads
- Joint winner, Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, YALSA
“An honest and true story told without glamour or artifice.”
Africa Access Review, 09/12/14
“Honest, raw and powerful.”
School Library Journal, *starred review, 11/08
“Recommended for older teens, but adults won’t be able to put the book down either.”
Foreword Reviews, 01/09
“Mariatu’s indomitable spirit will resonate most with teens.”
“She may not have hands but she does have a voice—and it is a powerful one that deserves our attention.”
Professionally Speaking, 09/09
“Told simply and accessibly, Mariatu Kamara’s story will intrigue, inform and, in places, shock teen readers . . . A remarkable book.”
Canadian Children's Book News, 08/09
“It is a testament to human will to overcome adversity.”
Resource Links, 12/08
“Its brilliance lies in simultaneously revealing the shocking brutality of war and the immense will and courage of youth to rise up for justice.”
WOW Reviews, 07/11
“Will unsettle readers—and then inspire them.”
Publishers Weekly, *starred review, 11/17/08
“A powerful commentary on one of the many costs of wars. An essential purchase.”
Kirkus, *starred review, 10/08
“Told with equal measures of compassion and detachment that allows the reader to be both shocked and locked in. It’s good, really good. Highly recommended.”
CM Reviews, 11/08
The Bite of the MangoThe Bite of the Mango is a remarkable book that chronicles not only war, horrifying violence and the harsh daily struggle of refugees but also one young woman’s astounding spirit and resilience.
At the beginning of the story, Mariatu Kamara is an 11-year-old child living in rural Sierra Leone with some of her extended family. Despite the villagers’ efforts to avoid the rebel soldiers who are ravaging the countryside, Mariatu and her cousins are captured. The young rebels cut off her hands before releasing her, taunting her with the words, “Ask the president to give you new hands.” Just before she passes out, she wonders, “What’s a president?”
From this point, Mariatu’s journey takes her to a hospital and then an amputee camp in Freetown (the capital of Sierra Leone), through pregnancy, the death of her child and eventually to Britain and then Canada. She has periods of deep despair and dreams that give her strength. She is reunited with some of her cousins – similarly maimed by the rebels – and joins a theatre troupe that facilitates her own healing and fosters her confidence to pursue her goals.
Today, Mariatu is a college student in her early twenties in Toronto and a UNICEF Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. As the book ends, she is preparing to speak to Sierra Leone’s president “on behalf of all the people of Sierra Leone who are not being heard.”
Told simply and accessibly, Mariatu Kamara’s story will intrigue, inform and, in places, shock, teen readers. It will also present them with a remarkable young woman of spirit and strength who pursues her aunt’s advice – “Always look forward”– but eventually learns to look both backwards without regrets and forwards to her new goals.
Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Summer 2009. Vol.32 No.3.
The Bite of the MangoMariatu Kamara led a carefree childhood in a small rural village in Sierra Leone. But when she was 12, young rebels cut off her hands. Discover her astounding journey from her wartorn country to a new life in Canada. In 2008, she embarked on a North American speaking tour as a UNICEF Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.
Source: The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Best Books for Kids & Teens. 2009.