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Kills Man is a brutal hopeless story based upon true events. The story
takes place in Medellin, Colombia in modern times, and is about a boy and a
gun. We have read about the Colombian Drug Cartel and how its tentacles have
reached into every aspect of the lives of Colombians, but its insidious
operation is on the eleven o'clock news, or fed to American suburban youth as
TV drama's mini-series, or Hollywood's Quentin Tarantino's graphically violent
underbelly of drug-driven crime. It's not in real life unless a child lives in
an American ghetto. And yet statistics tell us that one in six youths between
the ages of 10 and 17 has seen or knows someone who has been shot. Not shot on
TV, but really shot. Children under 18 were 244 percent more likely to be
killed by guns in 1993 than they were in 1986.†
They say that the average American child watches 8,000 televised murders
and 100,000 acts of violence before finishing elementary school. That number
more than doubles by the time he or she reaches age 18.
But thirteen-year-old Sonny doesn't watch murders on
TV; he commits them as a hit man for the Medellin drug cartel (Drug lords in
Columbia use children as assassins because the government won't jail a minor
for murder). Matt Whyman has fashioned this story of how the realities of a
city, where there are only two types of people, the poor and those who work for
the drug lords, desensitizes a population that would otherwise abhor the brutal
and insensitive acts they have come to accept as commonplace.
†Sonny, renamed Shorty by his Medellin boss, wasn't born a
murderer. He was a soccer-playing youth who never had a chance to be anything
else than what he became. He was strictly a product of a time and a place that
offered no alternatives. Sonny's choices reminded me of how it must be for the
children of this country who live in the midst of gangs and who must join one
in order to survive. Children who grow up in this environment expect that they
will die before they become adults and many do. Sonny would understand them.
Sonny never knew his father who
left before he was born. All he was ever told was that he had to leave home in
a hurry, presumably because of the law or drug lords. It's not clear which, but
Sonny's uncle, his father's brother, shows up at the abandoned family's door
and moves in to the home and his mother's bed. Strangely, Sonny thinks his
father's running away was an heroic act and a brave sacrifice but his uncle's
role as head of the house as cowardly.
Sonny's best friend and soccer
teammate is Antonio. As ten year olds, Sonny describes their relationship as
blood brothers, equal in everything, but the reader finds it is more of hero
worship on Sonny's part, especially when Antonio is tagged by the cartel as
their next child assassin. As Antonio gets deeper and deeper into being an
instrument of the drug lord known as El Fantasma (The Ghost), the more he draws
away from Sonny. But this only makes Sonny worship him even more.
†The reality of Whyman's novel is savage and graphic. Even if it
were told without the harsh language and horrifying sadism, it would be a
frightening picture of how a people, how a human society could return to its
feral roots. The most disturbing aspect of this picture is how easy it is for a human being to be
enslaved by hopelessness and not even recognize its chains.
Alberto, Sonny's best friend,
ironically says," I've always wondered what it looked like on the other
side." He's referring to the mountain peaks that surround his city, but he
could just as well be wondering about a place where not everyone thinks
"it's better to accept a bribe than see their loved ones go missing,"
a place where "the cops and the judges may be decent people at heart, but
with that kind of choice, it's no wonder so many take the money." The
corruption of the landscape of this life goes so deep it has burrowed into the
soul of its people and given them a life without choices. One becomes a part of
it, leaves, or dies.
The story and Whyman's telling of
it are compelling and disturbing. At first I thought too disturbing for a young
adult reader, but on reflecting on the brutality that runs across the TV screen
and movie theaters on any given week, I think this novel shows them how easy it
would be to be anesthetized to their own sense of decency and feed the beast of
a corrupt society. However, I do think a warning of the adult content of
violence and language should accompany the title. It would probably serve to
make the book a hot item, but forewarned is forearmed.†
†© 2005 Lorraine
Rice provides the following information about herself.
- Adjunct Professor of English
and ESL at Suffolk Community College, NY for 16 years.
- Poet and Artist My web page: http://hometown.aol.com/euterpel66/myhomepage/poetry.html
- Widow and mother of three
adult children and one granddaughter.
- BA St. John's University,
- MA SUNY at Stony Brook, NY
- Like to explore: the
Internet, evolutionary-psychology, countries, books, people, outdoors,
flea markets, and old roads.
- Like to create: portraits,
gardens, found-object sculpture, lists, poems, and friendships.
- Like to travel: to most of US
States, Canada, Bermuda, England, Brazil, China, and Mexico.