Summary and Analysis Chapter 12



After walking for days, the boys are captured by a group of soldiers and taken to Yele, a village occupied by the military. There, they are put to work chopping vegetables, carrying water, and washing dishes. It is a welcomed relief, but Ishmael suffers severe headaches daily. The village seems an oasis of normalcy in the war, but it is flooded with orphans. Ishmael writes that there is nothing to fear during the days in the village: children play soccer and marbles and parents tend their children. But Ishmael suffers migraines and nightmares and withdraws from village life.

Weeks later, the village of Yele is surrounded by rebels, and the military are losing the war. They tell the boys and men that they must either join their forces and fight or leave the village. Ishmael and his friends feel that they have no choice. Leaving the village means an immediate death at the hands of the rebels. The next day, they are moved into tents near the soldiers' barracks and given guns. There are more than thirty boys, from seven-year-olds to sixteen-year-olds. They are given new shoes and clothing. Ishmael's old clothes are burned with the cassette tapes of his rap music inside. Ishmael is both furious and terrified about joining the fight, but when he seeks solace from his friends, they all turn away in silence.

The army of boys begins training. They learn to shoot AK47s and to kill rebels by using bayonets on banana trees. They are continually reminded that these rebels killed their families and that they are inhumane. The only hope for revenge, they are told, and for justice is to do the same to the rebels that was done to their own parents and loved ones.


This chapter is a turning point because Ishmael and his friends are conscripted as child soldiers for the first time. It is ironic that the very village where life seems normal and safe becomes the place where their futures as child soldiers are determined. The theme of the horror of war is prevalent throughout this chapter as Ishmael and the other boys face an impossible decision. If they flee the protection of the village, they risk being killed by the rebels. If they refuse to fight for the army, they risk starvation. This shows that in times of war, people are forced to choose among horrible options that are often detrimental to someone else. It's kill or be killed, and Ishmael joins the army as his only chance of survival.

Their motivation to join the army is survival, but the theme of revenge is present as well. The boys are brainwashed into believing that, by soldiering, they can take revenge on the men who killed their families. Every trouble they face will be blamed on the rebels as a way of motivating the boys to continue to kill in the name of revenge.