At the beginning of this month, our YA and Wine book club had the pleasure of having a Skype chat with author Keely Hutton about her powerful novel Soldier Boy, which is based on the true story of a boy named Ricky Anywar.
I was so moved by Ricky’s story and this book that I asked Keely to do a guest post here on YA and Wine, telling readers about how she came to write this important story and educating us on how we can get involved with the Friends of Orphans non-profit organization.
FRO was founded and is administered by former child soldiers, orphans and abductees, like Ricky, all of whom were and continue to be affected by the war in Northern Uganda.
It is a fully registered not-for-profit non-government organization of Uganda.
Guest Post by Author Keely Hutton
The first question readers ask me when they finish SOLDIER BOY is How did you meet Ricky?
It’s a fair question and one that would have had a very different answer if not for a persistent cousin of mine.
In March 2012, my cousin, John Fay, emailed me about Ricky Richard Anywar, a man he’d met while working with non-profit organizations in Africa. Ricky was looking for a writer to tell the story of his time as child soldier in notorious warlord Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army(LRA). Although Ricky’s story of survival captured my attention, I politely declined John’s request that I speak with Ricky three times. I believed a story as important as Ricky’s deserved both a published author with name recognition and a writer with experience crafting historical fiction based on true stories.
I was neither.
Fortunately for me, my cousin refused to take no for an answer, even a polite no. He emailed me again about Ricky, and even went as far as involving my mother in his push to make the Skype call happen. Finally, I agreed, and Ricky and I scheduled a time to chat.
Five minutes into our first Skype conversation, I was certain to two things:
- Ricky’s story needed to be told.
- And even though I still questioned if I was the writer to tell it, I knew I wanted try.
So I dove into research to educate myself on the Ugandan conflict, Joseph Kony, the LRA, and child soldiers, and Ricky and I also started Skyping and emailing regularly. In June 2012, Ricky traveled to the U.S. and stayed with my family for several days. We discussed ideas for the book, Ricky’s time as a child soldier, and how he came to found Friends of Orphans.
Ricky explained that he didn’t want the book to be a series of shocking, graphically violent scenes. He wanted the message of his story to be one of hope and inspiration. After reviewing my notes from our conversations, I knew I had to find a way to give readers time to breathe. During Ricky’s two-and-a-half years of captivity, there were no moments that weren’t traumatizing and terrifying, so I had to build in quieter moments.
With that goal in mind, I pitched the idea of two alternating storylines, Ricky’s and Samuel’s. Ricky’s chapters would be accurate representations of his time in the LRA. The chapters that follow Samuel, a composite character representative of the thousands of children Ricky has helped since founding Friends of Orphans, would be set twenty years later and serve as a thread of light woven between the darkness of the Ricky chapters.
Ricky loved the idea, so I broadened my research to include how Ricky and the Friends of Orphans staff approach the difficult task of aiding former child soldiers and war-affected youth with their recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration. Readers would see Friends of Orphans and the healing, transformative work done at their compound through Samuel’s eyes.
The second question many readers ask is What can I do to help?
The civil war in Uganda lasted over 23 years, and the damage and trauma caused by the conflict is still being felt throughout northern Uganda. A portion of the author proceeds from the book are donated to Friends of Orphans, so by purchasing SOLDIER BOY, readers are already helping. If readers want to help more, Friends of Orphans needs financial support to help run their programs and they are always also looking for volunteers to come and work with FRO in Uganda, as well as people who will work within their own communities to create awareness about FRO’s work, promote advocacy and networking, and organize fundraisers to further support Friends of Orphans projects. Additional information about Ricky and Friends of Orphans may be found at http://frouganda.org/ and fundraising ideas may be found at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B16yAo6FWT77cVhxR2x0OEtFX3M/view .
Thank you, YA & Wine for asking me to contribute a guest blog post about the story behind the story of SOLDIER BOY.
I am grateful to readers, like you, for embracing my debut novel.
I am grateful to my cousin for asking me one more time if I’d speak with Ricky.
And I’m grateful to Ricky for sharing his story with me, so I might share it with you.
SOLDIER BOY reveals the heartbreaking horrors Ugandan children faced during the decades-long civil war that gripped their country. The subject matter is real and difficult to read, but at its core, it is a story about the unrelenting strength of the human spirit to find hope in the darkest corners of hell, to escape captivity despite insurmountable odds, and to hold onto humanity when all else is lost. I hope Ricky’s story leaves readers with a new perspective on what they are capable of when faced with hardships and a new understanding of how sharing your story heals not only you, but those who hear it.
Having answered the questions readers ask me most about SOLDIER BOY, I leave you with one question.
May I tell you a story?
About the Book
Title: Soldier Boy
Author: Keely Hutton
Pub. Date: June 13, 2017
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
It was just a nightmare.
All Ricky needed to do was wake up. Just open his eyes. And Kony’s red-eyed beasts with their long claws dripping blood and their fiery breath would have disappeared. His brother would be beside him. His parents and sisters would be safe and asleep in their beds.
Just like before.
Here is the true story of Ricky Richard Anywar, abducted in 1989 at age fourteen by Joseph Kony’s rebel army in the Ugandan civil war (one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts). Ricky is trained, armed, and sent to battle government troops alongside his brutal kidnappers, but over his two and a half years of enslavement, he never stops dreaming of escape.
Here also is the story, set twenty years later, of a fictional character named Samuel, a boy deathly afraid of trusting anyone ever again, and representative of the thousands of child soldiers Ricky has helped rehabilitate as founder of the internationally acclaimed charity Friends of Orphans.
Have you read Soldier Boy yet? Did you know that just by buying a copy of the book, you are doing your part to support Friends of Orphans?