Mahalia and Mouse are “war maggots,” children orphaned by the violent and ever changing civil war that has ravaged the bleak futuristic landscape of the United States eastern coast, and caused the Chinese peacekeepers to cut their losses and flee. They find temporary safety and shelter with Doctor Mahfouz, a kind physician who works hard helping their small village of civilian survivors stay alive. But when the United Patriot Front, a ragged gang of young men and child soldiers, invade Banyan Town while on the hunt for an escaped genetically engineered canine soldier named Tool (one of my all-time favorite characters), Mahalia and Mouse are dragged back into the danger and chaos of the civil war that destroyed their families and took Mahalia’s hand. In this dark companion novel to the Printz award- winning Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi paints a terrifying picture of a future that looks frighteningly similar to recent conflicts involving child soldiers in countries like Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. Though Bacigalupi’s precise, crisp prose and masterful plotting was as excellent as expected, I had a very hard time finishing this book because Mahalia and Mouse’s situation is so grim, the violence they endure is so pervasive, and any hope they find is brutally snatched away. But I know my reaction is no doubt what the author intended. Because if the readers of this book, and others that chronicle the real lives of child soldiers, are inspired to take action as a result of what they have read, then maybe someday the global epidemic of war and violence against children will end. A piercing, powerful book that will sear itself on your heart and soul.