Edited by J.L. Powers
A 2013 Skipping Stones Honor Book
A 2012 Notable Books for a Global Society Book
With essays from Qais Akbar Omar, Aria Minu-Sepehr, Alia Yunis, Rene Colato Lainez, Jerry Mathes, Nikolina Kulidzan, Philip Cole Manor, Peauladd Huy, Marnie Mueller, David Griffith, David Yost, and many many more.
What’s it like to grow up during war? To be a victim of violence or exiled from your homeland, culture, family, and even your own memories?
When America’s talking heads talk about war, children and teenagers are often the forgotten part of the story. Yet who can forget images of the Vietnam “baby lift,” when Amer-Asian children were flown out of Vietnam to be adopted by Americans? Who can forget the horror of learning that Iranian children were sent on suicide missions to clear landmines? Who wasn’t captivated by stories of the “lost boys” of Sudan, traveling thousands of miles alone through the desert, seeking shelter and safety? From the cartel-terrorized streets of Juárez to the bombed-out cities of Bosnia to Afghanistan under the Taliban, from Nazi-occupied Holland to the middle-class American home of a Vietnam vet, this collection of personal and narrative essays explores both the universal and particular experiences of children and teenagers who came of age during a time of war.
“Seventeen wrenching accounts, most previously unpublished and either personal or based on interviews, from witnesses who as children or teenagers were caught up in wars or internecine violence. From Marnie Mueller, born of non-Japanese parents in a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II, to three pseudonymous young refugees belonging to the savagely persecuted Chin minority who fled Burma in the mid-2000s, the subjects of these essays range widely in age and background. They have in common inner wounds that persist long after outer ones have healed or, at least, scarred over. Except for Fito Avitia, a resident of Juárez, Mexico, determined to stay put despite his city’s wild tides of crime and violence, displacement runs as a common thread through these narratives. It takes the form of either physical exile or, in the case of Phillip Cole Manor, who writes of his tour in Vietnam and Jerry Mathes’ portrait of his father, who came back from that war with PTSD, profound damage to senses of place and self. Explicit descriptions of atrocities make disturbing reading in some entries, though all are, in the end, uplifting tales of survival that offer a mix of (as the editor puts it) “loss, anger, fear, heartbreak and forgiveness.” A romantic encounter between a Serb and a Croat, and a Kabul youth’s memories of repeated encounters with a smitten “Talib in Love” even add lighter notes. War’s most vulnerable victims, stepping up to have their say.” Kirkus Reviews
“[R]eaders will be rewarded by [this] compelling and often uplifting anthology … That Mad Game surprises with its variety. From Taliban-controlled Kabul to a Japanese internment camp in northern California, from a teen girl’s “soundtrack of war” in Beirut to a young man’s long walk across much of Africa, the startling stories make for rough going at times. But the humor, beauty, and humanity shining through the darkness are what make this collection a must-have for all libraries serving high school students.” School Library Journal
“While Powers offers no definitive ideological position in the meaning of these essays, it is hard to escape the feeling that more than pacifism, this book is a desperate plea for justice. Whether examining the sadness and loss of a young U.S. soldier in the Vietnam War, or the determination of a family caught in the current Mexican Drug War, the stories bring into sharp relief the gulf between dry statements of public policy and the sticky realities of what it is to be a pawn in great geopolitical games. This is not a call to arms so much as a call to understanding.” Rain Taxi
” Editor J.L. Powers has done an amazing job of collecting an array of individual narratives to dive into. Some will resonate more than others, but collectively they provide a powerful example of the lingering impact of war on the lives of children and teenagers. What so impressed me is that the children come from such diverse backgrounds; they are soldiers and civilians, from families who fled war or the children of those who fought in it. In ways big and small, subtle and obvious, their lives have been touched by combat and the message they share is serious stuff: you don’t get over this, not completely, not ever. You just learn to live with what you know and somehow not let it destroy you.” –Colleen Mondor, Bookslut. Full review.
“In her introduction to this anthology of autobiographical accounts of childhood experiences of war, Powers notes that the world has seen at least 160 wars since 1945, and children are more likely to experience war during their lifetime than not. In these seventeen essays, most of them original to the collection, writers (almost all adult writers whose names will be new to young readers) recount their childhood and young adulthood experiences during wars in which they lost their homelands, their dreams, and their innocence. Historical facts and context set the stage for the personal stories, which range from experiences in the Japanese internment camps in the U.S. and the occupation of Holland during World War II, to personal and secondhand accounts of Vietnam from a soldier and the son of a soldier, to life in exile during the Cultural Revolution in China, to the ongoing unrest in Burma, among others. There is a riveting and revealing story of a pair of city boys who befriend a member of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and an account by a couple who have decided to rear their two young children in Juarez, Mexico, despite the fact that drug cartels have turned their city into a war zone. The stories are emotionally exhausting in their unflinching brutality, and thus perhaps best parsed out over time as teachers introduce students to the various conflicts. However, rich, detailed accounts like these of the displacement of war and its lingering effect on memories are essential to helping teens put a human face on tragedies that often seem too distant in both time and geography to grasp. These essays give readers a front-row seat to the hunger, the hardship, and, ultimately, the resilience of people whose childhoods were forever marked by life on the front lines. ” starred review, KC, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.
“”In reading these documents of the inhumanities of war, we open our eyes to the ways brutality is perpetuated upon people and perhaps we become a little more compassionate from this understanding.” Edi Campbell, Viewpoints: Official Publication of the Indiana Council for the Social Studies
“When writing their end of quarter reflections, the students in my freshmen Humanities class wrote of the impact That Mad Game had on their learning. Comments such as ‘the instructor’s choice of That Mad Game was excellent, it opened my eyes and my heart to people and situations I had never thought of before,’ and ‘My sense of myself as a global citizen grew in leaps and bounds; I have a new awareness of how others suffer from injustice far beyond my own safety; it made me want to become more active in the world.’ I will continue to use That Mad Game as the central text for my freshmen students. It is a deeply humane way for young people to begin to grapple with the consequences of war.” Merna Ann Hecht, University of Washington-Tacoma, Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, Lecturer
“There is heartache in the stories J.L. Powers has assembled here, as well as loss and pain and death. They are about war, after all. But there is humor too, and also love and faith and hope, because they are human stories too, and as each one testifies in its own way, humans are able to heal.” Charles London, author of One Day the Soldiers Came: Voices of Children in War.
“I was sent to the war in Afghanistan with a lot of slogans in my head about freedom and fighting terrorism. What I found instead was a tremendous respect for the good Afghan people, a deep sympathy for the Afghan children struggling for better lives, and a profound hatred of the Taliban for the way they brutalized their own people. That Mad Game is a reminder that such hatred is the same mistake from which all the world’s wars are born. The fact that That Mad Game can steer my hard heart toward sympathy for a young Talib is a sure sign of this book’s tremendous potential to foster a spirit of peace and understanding in readers everywhere.” Trent Reedy, author of Words in the Dust and Stealing Air.
J.L. Powers is the editor of Labor Pains and Birth Stories and the author of two young adult novels, most recently This Thing Called the Future, an alternative fantasy set in post-apartheid South Africa. She began collecting essays on children and war while pregnant with her first child and says, “The experience was both painful and uplifting, not unlike giving birth. The most memorable aspect of these essays is their stark portrayal of both survival and hope in the midst of incredible suffering.”