That Mad Game: Growing Up in a Warzone

An Anthology of Essays from Around the Globe
Edited by J.L. Powers
Cinco Puntos • 2012 • 231 pages
Trade Paperback ($16.95)
ISBN: 978-1-935955-22-1
Ages 14 and up

“Some people consider our city to be one of the worst in the world. We think that means it is the best place in the world for transformation.”

Kabul? Baghdad? Amman? No, this refers to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, directly across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, and one of the cities where the Mexican government’s crackdown on the drug cartels has led those cartels to wage war, in effect, on the people of Mexico. But Fito Avitia’s words quoted above, from the closing paragraph of his essay From Fear to Hope, are characteristic of many of the mostly autobiographical writings contained in this striking anthology.

Even in the most debilitating and cruel of situations, these adults looking back on their childhoods and youths in violent places frequently find a way to see the good that can develop out of the horrors they have experienced. Many of them had to live as refugees, or flee their homelands due to civil war or revolution: whether it’s the son of an Iranian general after the ouster of the Shan, or ethnic Chin teenagers from Burma starting new lives in Texas. Mutassem; a Palestinian eight-year-old, loses part of his right leg and four of the fingers on his left hand in an Israeli bombing; Peauladd Huy survives the Khmer Rouge coup in Cambodia, but loses both of her parents and barely escapes being raped by a soldier.

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Many high school students will be able to approach these accounts on their own, but parents may want to limit the exposure of their more sensitive sons and daughters by reading the book together. Certainly these memoirs—while not gratuitously graphic—should not be left to junior high or younger children to read by themselves, and some parents may be offended by the R-rated language in a few of them (such as that used by the soldiers in Vietnam.) This is a powerful and moving testimony to the horror of war, an important publication.

—Reviewed by Coop Renner, retired librarian: El Paso Independent School District