Review Blog

Nov 16 2009

Chalkline by Jane Mitchell

cover image

Walker Books, 2009.
ISBN 9781406315172.
Rafiq and his crew of 6 boys about his age are hiding in the ricks by the side of the road, waiting for the convoy to appear. They have spent some time laying the bombs and now must wait till they finish their deadly business, picking clean the resultant mayhem, amongst the bodies and debris. So begins this powerful story of children being used by terrorists for their own ends.
The following chapter tells us how Rafiq and some of his village peers are recruited. No ideological transformation this, but boys in the school are told to lean against the board where a chalkline had been drawn. Those who are as high or higher than the chalkline are taken. The arbitrary nature of the whole thing scaring the reader, but worse is to follow.
The Kashmiri Freedom Fighters are warring with India over territorial disputes, and so take children as young as nine to build up their numbers. Their training is horrific, only the brave and daring survive, the weaker ones used for killing practice.
When Rafiq's parents realise what has happened to him, they give up, but Rafiq's sister does not, keeping his memory alive within her family, making efforts to find him. All the while we hear of what Rafiq is doing, and how the training and his exploits are changing him. The denouement is chilling, as he is sent to bomb a temple and she sees him.
The contrast all the way through this timely novel is between her belief and his growing absorption into the world he now knows. Whether or not he can wrench himself free of all the horror he has seen and been a part of is something readers will ponder. The endorsement by Amnesty International points to the verity of this novel, and Mitchell's extensive travel through the region invests it with a sound basis if fact. It is unputdownable.
Books on the theme of children taken in war or affected by war are many, including Deborah Ellis' marvelous Parvana series, AK by Peter Dickinson, Bite of the Mango by Mariatu and the two volumes of children speaking about their war experiences by Deborah Ellis, Children of War, and Off to War. All could be used with Chalkline as part of a unit on War.
Fran Knight

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