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In Colombia you have to pick a side. Or one will be picked for you . . .

All Pedro Gutiérrez cares about is fishing, playing pool and his girlfriend Camila’s promise to sleep with him on his sixteenth birthday. But his life is ripped apart when Guerrilla soldiers callously execute his father in front of him, and he and his mother are banished from their farm.

Swearing vengeance against the five men responsible, Pedro, with his best friend Palillo, joins an illegal Paramilitary group, where he is trained to fight, kill and crush any sign of weakness.

But as he descends into a world of unspeakable violence, Pedro must decide how far he is willing to go. Can he stop himself before he becomes just as ruthless as those he is hunting? Or will his dark obsession cost him all he loves?

Colombiano is an epic tale of rural villages held to ransom, of jungle drug labs, cocaine supermarkets, witch doctors and buried millions, of innocent teenage love, barbaric torture and meticulously planned revenge.

Superbly told and by turns gripping, poignant and darkly comic, Colombiano is the remarkable story of a boy whose moral descent becomes a metaphor for the corruption of an entire nation. Both blockbuster thriller and electrifying coming-of-age story, Rusty Young’s powerful novel is also a meditation on the redeeming power of love.

689 pages, Paperback

First published August 1, 2017

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About the author

Rusty Young

5 books277 followers
Rusty Young (born 1975) is the Australian-born author of the international bestseller Marching Powder, the true story of an English drug smuggler in Bolivia’s notorious San Pedro Prison and the bestselling novel, Colombiano, a fact-meets-fiction revenge thriller about a Colombian boy who sets out to avenge his father’s death.

Rusty grew up in Sydney, and studied Finance and Law at the University of New South Wales. He was backpacking in South America when he heard about Thomas McFadden, a convicted English drug trafficker who ran tours inside Bolivia's famous San Pedro Prison. Curious about the reason behind McFadden's huge popularity, the law graduate went to La Paz and joined one of Thomas's illegal tours. They formed an instant friendship and then became partners in an attempt to record Thomas's experiences in the jail.

Rusty bribed the guards to allow him to stay and for the next three months he lived inside the prison, sharing a cell with Thomas. After securing Thomas's release, Rusty lived in Colombia where he taught the English language and wrote Thomas's story. The memoir, Marching Powder, was released in 2003 and was an international bestseller.

Following the success of Marching Powder, Rusty was recruited as a Program Director of the US government's Anti-Kidnapping Program in Colombia. He was part of a team that trained local police, military and SWAT teams in kidnapping response and hostage rescue. At the time, Colombia had an average of eight kidnappings a day. It was a role fraught with danger and Rusty lived part-time on a military base, drove a Level III armoured vehicle, communicated with colleagues via encrypted radio and changed houses in Bogotá a dozen times. He kept this work completely secret.

Through police and army contacts, Rusty was able to interview special forces soldiers, including snipers and undercover intelligence agents, about their work. He also interviewed captured child soldiers from the two main terrorist organisations – FARC and Autodefensas. The former soldiers, some as young at twelve when they joined, described in great detail their reasons for enlisting, their hatred of the enemy, their gruelling military training, their political indoctrination and their horrific experiences in battle. Once Rusty had earned their trust, they also opened up to him about gruesome tortures they were forced to witness or participate in.

These interviews, along with Rusty’s extensive in-the-field knowledge about cocaine trafficking, formed the factual setting and background for his novel Colombiano, a fact-meets-fiction revenge thriller.

Colombiano was published in Australia in August 2017 and was the highest-selling Australian fiction title that month. It will be released worldwide in 2018.

In 2011, Rusty co-founded the Colombian Children’s Foundation of Australia, which helps rehabilitate and resocialise former child soldiers. Currently, his house in Bogotá is the charity’s headquarters. Ten percent of his royalties of Colombiano will go to the foundation, which has almost 200 former child soldiers under care.

Rusty also fronts the documentary Wildlands (2017) in which he interviews notorious characters formerly involved in the cocaine trade, including George Jung – famously played by Johnny Depp in the movie Blow – and, more terrifyingly, John Velasquez or “Popeye”, Pablo Escobar’s right-hand man and one of the deadliest hitmen in cartel history.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 416 reviews
Profile Image for Maureen .
1,443 reviews7,063 followers
August 14, 2019
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Wow! What a powerful story this is, depicting as it does the conflict between the army and opposing Guerrilla groups in Colombia, and in particular it features the child soldiers who were either forced into joining these groups or had very good reason for committing their lives to such a violent cause. Though fictional, author Rusty Young’s Colombiano is based on interviews that he conducted with child soldiers, and he draws on his own life experiences too, having worked undercover for the US government in counter terrorism - those facts alone make this such a chilling yet utterly compelling read!

15 year old Pedro Gutiérrez is a farmer’s son, he loves helping his dad around the farm, and hopes to inherit it some day. He relishes the time he and his father spend fishing too, though equally he enjoys playing pool with his friends, and he also loves his girlfriend Camila. He’s just an ordinary boy doing ordinary things, and he’s really happy with his life, but all that changes when his beloved father is executed in front of him by Guerilla soldiers - not only that, but he and his mother are banished from their farm, which leaves them without an income. Pedro swears he will find every one of those soldiers involved, and promises to avenge his father’s death, so, together with his best friend Palillo, he joins an illegal Paramilitary black ops organisation. The training is tough, ruthless and violent, but it turns him into the killer that he needs to be in order to carry out his promise.

We follow Pedro as he rises through the ranks, and experience the heart stopping missions that he takes part in, and of course his relationship with Camila is always there in the background, but it’s his determination to kill those who took part in his father’s death that takes centre stage.

At almost 700 pages, this isn’t a short read, but don’t let that put you off, I couldn’t put it down and literally raced through it, and the fact that the chapters are bite sized certainly helped.

What can I say to explain how excellent this book was? I’ll admit that parts of it were really difficult to read due to the level of violence - it’s horrifying just what these child soldiers were made to participate in, but I became 100% emotionally involved in this fast paced and thrilling ride through Colombia’s darkest days. From first page to last, this is, without question, exceptional, and undoubtedly one of the best books that I’ve read this year!

* My thanks to Lily Green at Havelock & Baker Publishing, and to author Rusty Young for my signed copy of Colombiano. I have given an honest unbiased review in exchange *
Profile Image for Andy Marr.
Author 3 books776 followers
November 25, 2022
For the most part, this fact-meets-fiction account of the civil war between the army and opposing Guerrilla forces in 21st-century Colombia, and particularly the role of child soldiers in the conflict, was a powerful and well-written book. With its themes of loss, revenge, cruelty, betrayal and corruption, it kept my attention from start to finish, which is no mean feat for a story that runs to almost 700 pages. In fact, I feel almost guilty giving the book only 4 stars, but a few elements prevented me from giving it full marks.

First, the spoilers. For example, the novel began by telling us that Pablo's father was shot by the Guerrilla. This was all very well, except that the killing didn't take place until around page 40. So, later on, when the father was on his knees, the Guerrilla circling him with a gun in his hand, we already knew what was going to happen and the tension was lost completely.

Second, the length. Although the story was well told, I do feel that the novel would have benefited from another careful edit. I think that 150-200 pages could easily have been cut from the book without the story-line being affected. In fact, by condensing or taking out sections where the novel began to drag - for example, during Pablo's first attempt to assassinate Raton - the story would only have become more gripping.

Third, the dialogue. This could definitely have been improved upon, especially during the more romantic scenes between Pablo and his girlfriend. At times, when things got particularly smoochy between the two, the writing became almost unbearably cheesy. I'd quote a couple of examples here, but - honestly - I'd probably get a bit sick in my mouth just by typing them out.

Despite these obvious faults, Colombiano was a good read and I'd happily recommend it, particularly to fans of crime, action and adventure novels.

*** Thank you to the publisher for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion. ***
Profile Image for Peter.
472 reviews2,556 followers
August 17, 2019
A book that's packed with a real right-hook. I expected a documentary-style book outlining the research and feedback Rusty Young had gathered from the many interviews and investigations he had undertaken in the region, especially with the real-life Child Soldiers. Not the case!

Colombiano is a novel styled book which is cleverly written, it is engrossing and absorbing with shocking revelations. The story is based on a fictional character, Pedro (probably an amalgamation of several people in an attempt to protect identities), who experiences the events that drove him to enrol as a child soldier and fight in a conflict that was brutal, remorseless, perilous and full of hate.

Law and order do not exist in the traditional sense in Colombia. During their troubled past, there have been a number of factions. Firstly the Colombian Army and police forces providing limited law and order in a divided country – not to mention their exposure to corruption and criminality. The second group was the FARC Guerrilla, who were peasant farmers who took up arms, aiming to fight poverty and social inequality by toppling the government and installing communist rule. To fund their revolution, they ‘taxed’ businesses and kidnapped the rich, appropriating their lands for redistribution to the poor. The third group were the Paramilitaries who were wealthy land and business owners, tired of the government’s failure to protect them, who formed their own private militias and ‘death squads’.
“No matter how hard you try, you can’t remain neutral. Eventually, you have to pick a side. And if you don’t, one will be picked for you. As it was for me.”

When Pedro was 15 years old he had to witness his father being executed by the Guerrilla for allowing the army to drink their water on the farm. There may have been other reasons and often it was to send a message. The execution is cold and clinical but disturbingly they are not allowed to bury the body in the consecrated ground and have a priest pray for his soul. While Pedro’s parents had always pleaded with him to remain neutral, now his father’s death must be avenged.

Rusty Young creates excellent characters, particular, Pedro, and a society that is circumspect and threated by cruelty from forces on all sides. He portrays an environment where the futility of staying removed from the violence is common, where events can strike and change a life in a matter of moments, and where hate and revenge are the staple diet of young men and women. Who can say what we would do if we watched a family member murdered and the law enforcement unwilling or unable to address the crime? Unfortunately, bloodshed begets bloodshed and when all sides can cite atrocities the spiral into horror and hostility is the norm.

The length of the book is nearly 700 pages and I started it with the decision in my mind that if this dragged I would stop and not commit any more time to a book I wasn’t enjoying. I read the 689 pages and also read other material around the subject. An advantage in reading this book is that the chapters are short and progression is easy to sustain. I felt the writing was excellent and the pace of the book was brilliantly maintained creating a totally enthralling story.

I would highly recommend this book and I would like to thank Havelock & Baker Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC version in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Kylie D.
464 reviews515 followers
April 7, 2019
A powerful novel, set in Colombia, reliving the conflict of army vs guerilla vs drug lords, etc. You get the drift. It follows two and a half years of the life of child soldier Pedro, who is forced to watch the murder of his father at the hands of guerillas on his family farm, then, wracked with guilt, he enlists with terrorist organisation the Autodefencas to fight the guerillas when he is only fifteen.

We follow Pedro and his best friend Palillo as they go through their training, and start to rise up the ranks of the organisation. We go on missions, watch with them in terror as they and their friends go through a living hell, we laugh, cry and love with these soldiers, often forgetting that they are only kids, as they are forced to grow up far too fast in a harsh regime.

This is a hard book to put down, yet it is far from an easy read. Well researched and terrifyingly realistic, author Rusty Young has based his novel on the real stories of child soldiers he has met in Colombia. It's definitely not a book for a single sitting, the kindle edition clocking in at over 800 pages, but the time goes quickly as you find yourself totally absorbed in Pedro's story. It is a true eye-opener about current affairs we never truly appreciate are happening in our world. Highly recommended.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Havelock And Baker for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for MarilynW.
1,196 reviews3,033 followers
December 8, 2019
This book was so far out of my comfort zone that I wasn't sure I should read it, but I'm so very glad I did. The author, Rusty Young, did an excellent job of making the character, Pedro, someone I cared about. I wanted to know what was going to happen to Pedro, his friends, family, and the other people in his life.

Until I read this book, then watched some videos and read other material, I had very little understanding about the massive use of children to fight civil wars in Columbia. This story deals with two terrorist groups that use thousands of children to fight their wars, children that are forced to watch and participate in torture and murders. Once in these organizations, these children have no real hope of escaping, except by death. Everyday brings a new chance to watch those around them endure brutality or death by those who rule their lives.

Men's lust for power and money drive these wars and cocaine fuels the war machine. Townsfolk live in poverty and fear as both sides reign terror on the people, sometimes pretending to protect or help them while really using humans as fodder for their greed and brutality. Once I started reading, I did not want to put this book down. Not only did I learn what might cause children to think their only hope might be to join a terrorist group, I also was able to see that possibly even the worst of the barbarian soldiers, once had to face such decisions, as children, to save their own lives or the lives of their families.

Pedro and his mother and father live on their small farm and have managed to stay out of the fray as much as they can until finally Pedro and his dad anger one of the factions. Pedro's dad is murdered in front of Pedro and his mother and Pedro vows to kill the men who were involved in his father's death, the same men who forbid Pedro and his mother to bury his father or ever set foot on their farm again. Pedro joins the other terrorist group, which claims it's helping the people by fighting the guerrilla group. It's only later, once there is no turning back, that Pedro knows that he's trapped in a organization that is as brutal as the one that killed his father. Yet the desire for revenge keeps Pedro finding excuses to "soldier" on, often becoming what he hates most.

This is such a heartrending story and it's based in fact. It's hard enough imagining grownups seeing and enduring such horrible cruelty but knowing that children are thrown into this world and expected to live and perpetuate more horror on others, is horrifying. How do they come back from this, if they ever have a chance to do so?

I want to thank NetGalley and Lily with Havelock & Baker Publishing for providing this ARC to me.
Profile Image for Beata.
755 reviews1,157 followers
February 2, 2020
This is a novel that I will remember but I will not reread it at any time in the future. I appreciate the Author's effort to present Columbia most complicated times under FARC. I followed the news regarding this organzation and the brutality of life under its terror, however, this novel opened my eyes to the crude reality that prevailed in those days and what impact it had on ordinary people. The novel tells a story of a boy, Pedro, who, seeking revenge for his father's murder turns into a cruel man, like the man who killed his father. While half way through, I realized that cruelty and easiness to kill or lose one's life became so common that life itself had no value any more. At a certain point I did not expect anything else but more cruelty, and I was afraid it might not have any effect on me. And this was when I decided this book does not deliver .. A most terrifyng conclusion to a novel ... 'Colombiano' is an important witness to those times, but the novel is too long, and very much disturbing and upsetting.
*Many thank to Rusty Young, Havelock&Baker Publishing and NetGalley for arc in exchange for my honest review.*
Profile Image for Debra .
2,415 reviews35.2k followers
September 6, 2019
Gritty, Raw, Powerful, Captivating, Thought provoking and gut wrenching.

What happens when you really don't have a choice? What happens when choices are made for you? What happens when your life changes in an instant? What happens when you make a simple decision and it changes your life and outlook.

Pedro Gutiérrez is a happy teenager living in Columbia. He spends his days going to school, fishing, spending time with his best friend, Palillo and his girlfriend, Camilla. His world instantly changes when Guerrilla soldiers execute his father in front of him. Vowing vengeance, he goes on a journey that takes him from being a happy teen to a child soldier in a paramilitary group where he is trained to shot, fight and kill. Vengeance is always in his mind as he perfects his skills in hopes of tracking down the man who killed his father.

It is safe to say that this is not your average coming of age story. There are parts (many) in this book that are quite gruesome but are important for the story as these things are real. Blending fact with fiction, this book looks at how child soldiers are trained, and used to fight battles over land territory, politics, cocaine, and power.

How far will he go before he can say "vengeance is mine?" This is a HUGE book and at times it did feel it's size. But it also felt powerful, sad, realistic and shocking. It's sad to sit and think that there are child soldiers in many parts of the world who have lost their childhood and innocence for a life of violence. That there are places where a good man does what he feels in his heart is the right thing to do and pays for it with his life? This book is very realistic and visual. It is also well written, well thought out, perfectly paced and researched. This book took me though several feelings and emotions.

This one was hard to put down and had my attention from the start.

Thank you to Rusty Young, Lily from Havelock & Baker Publishing and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews596 followers
August 6, 2019
Captivating from start to finish!
“The war was like a slow burning campfire onto which both sides occasionally threw wood. And that’s probably the way it would’ve continued, if not for the arrival of the
Autodefensas”. ( United Self-Defenders of Colombia).

The campaign against organize crime in Columbia, has caused a violent response, increasing vulnerability of the civilian population due to the skirmishes between the organizations and the federal forces.

Author Rusty Young, Australian born, was recruited as a Program Director of the U.S. Government anti-kidnapping program in Columbia.
It was so dangerous, that Rusty Young, had to keep his job completely secret from his family and friends.
Hate, violence, drugs, children soldiers, a divided country.....Columbia had the highest murder rate of journalists in the world. Rusty, himself wasn’t a true journalist- but he might as well have been. He was working in a country with two terrorist organizations whose members numbered in the tens of thousands.
The first group was the FARC Guerrilla. Farmers aimed to fight poverty and social inequality by toppling the government and installing communist rule. To fund their revolution, they taxed businesses and kidnapped their rich, appropriating their lands for redistribution to the poor.
The second group - the Paramilitaries- was created in response. Wealthy land business owners, tired of the governments failure to protect them, formed their own private militias and ‘death squads’.

Young’s dedication to human rights - risking the safety of his own life - and the lives of others he interviewed - being in the heart of corruption and violent crimes - tells me that Rusty Young is one heck of an extraordinary human being....let alone an exciting storyteller.

This story - fact and fiction IS GRIPPING - written in storytelling - dramatic- style. It reads like a thriller.....true crime suspense with frightening - complicated revenge, danger, betrayal, power struggles, cocaine, punishment, death, and eventually a form of redemption.

The book begins when Pedro Gutierrez, the teenage adolescent narrator, was 15 years of age.
Pedro’s father was executed in front of him by Guerrilla soldiers. He and his mother were extradited from their farm. Pedro retaliates by joining an illegal paramilitary group with his close friend Palillo.

It’s a long book - but reads fast: Pedro, Palillo, and the other teens are brave in the face of unimaginable adversity.
Engrossing from the first page. Stunning story of strength and survival. It is sometimes brutal....but always fascinating. It shows terrorism at a shockingly personal level.

“Child-soldiers”....( two words that don’t belong together), has always been unfathomable to me. But “Colombiano ” is a wrenching, and mesmerizing important story.
Rusty Young describes the unthinkable, and the unforgettable.

Inspiring triumph....this book shines with energy - leaving a profound impression on the reader. I never - EVER- expected THIS BOOK - to be SUCH A PAGE TURNER....but anyone who starts it, is bound to have their own unputdownable experience.

“Crouching in a ditch with Palillo, an hour before dawn, I realized my life was now divided in two. The time before Papa. And the time after.
“My dream of running the ‘finca’, ( Farm), with him and taking it over during his old age was shattered, and I replaced it with a far darker ambition: to track down and punish his murderers”.

Powerful as can be!
Many thanks to Lily at Havelock & Baker Publishing with the advance gift of both the Audiobook and ebook. Listening to interviews with the author - enriched my admiration for Rusty Young.
Thanks again, Lily .....( I’m genuinely glad I read this....I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget.

Kudos to Rusty Young.....( mean guy...now I ‘must’ read your first book, Marching Powder”). I loved your interview talking about Bolivia, and your ‘REQUEST’ to stay in the San Pedro prison. Glad you never smuggled drugs in! Ha!

Profile Image for jv poore.
616 reviews211 followers
April 28, 2022
You can’t truly know what someone else is going through without walking in his shoes. Unless Mr. Young writes about it. In Colombiano, those of us fortunate enough to be far removed from any war zone, see exactly what living amid battles entails; in day-to-day life, as well the overall impact it has on absolutely everything.

Certainly, most people know that the Guerilla evoke evil with their aggressive cocaine manufacturing and distribution. The gross misunderstanding is that the Guerilla are fighting the army and law enforcement; not citizens. Leading to the false conclusion that, if folks go about their business, there’s no real reason for this pesky fighting to bother them. The carefully controlled propaganda supports this theory. Even having the place of worship utterly obliterated by “errant” fire is only an unfortunate consequence.

Pedro has listened to placates until he thought his head may explode. Papi made sure he contained, or at least properly channeled, his rage. There was Camila to consider. Rounding out the small group of people close to Pedro is the somewhat goofy, undeniably adorable, Pallilo. Pedro can push his anger aside for them.

Right up until the Guerilla descended on his father’s farm. In front of his disbelieving eyes, Papi is surrounded as accusations are hurled. The feisty fifteen-year-old cannot watch the depraved tirade and hold his tongue. Boldly, stupidly, Pedro demands an explanation. His father’s crime was revealed with a hint of glee. The farmer had the audacity to allow soldiers from the army to drink water from his well.

The resulting punishment is a defining, dividing moment for Pedro. There are men like Papi. Those who believed, as people of God, it was never right to deny a thirsty man a drink. And there are monsters masquerading as men—the Guerilla.

The situation that Pedro is forced to face is tragic. His retaliatory actions, atrocious. And yet…the author manages to demonstrate how a furious and yes, frightened, adolescent can morph into a ruthless man-killer—all the while reminding the reader that Pedro remains, essentially, a boy.

This review was written by jv poore for Buried Under Books, with huge thanks to Havelock and Baker Publishing for the Advance Review Copy to be donated to my favorite classroom library.
Profile Image for Felicia.
254 reviews941 followers
September 10, 2019
This is a great big book.


Is it a great-big book or a great big-book? That's debatable.

Despite the short chapters, it still reads like a great-big book which makes for a less than great big-book.

For me to really enjoy a great-big book I need to connect with the characters on a cellular level. I felt no investment in Pedro and his plight to avenge his father's murder and that disconnect lies solely in the lap of the authors inability to humanize this young character.

This is a fascinating story with tremendous potential and I have no regrets investing my time to read it. But it felt more like a perfunctory lesson than epic storytelling.

It's a good great-big book.

3.5 Stars rounded up ⭐

** Thank you to Lily from Havelock and Baker Publishing for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. **
Profile Image for Thomas.
768 reviews177 followers
December 28, 2019
4 bright stars for a very long(819 pages) book. The author was an undercover agent for the U.S. Government. He was assisting the Colombian Government's anti terrorist operations. During this time he interviewed many former soldiers from FARC, the Communist guerrilla organization, and AUC, the right wing paramilitary organization.
FARC has waged war against the government for 50 years or more. Both they and AUC draft child soldiers as young as 8 years old. The civil war is vicious and cruel. Both sides use torture and profit from sale of narcotics.
The book is an autobiography of an ex AUC soldier whose name has been changed. It starts with Pedro joining the AUC after FARC murders his father in front of him. At the end of the book peace is declared by all sides. According to news stories, the peace has held up for several years, but FARC has recently complained of unfair treatment.
One quote by Pedro: "To someone who has not had a parent stolen from them, I can only attempt to explain how t feels. It's like having part of yourself hacked off without warning."
Thanks to Havelock & Baker Publishing for sending me this eARC through NetGalley.
Profile Image for Sara Rebotim.
23 reviews40 followers
January 16, 2021
I would like to thank Haverlock & Baker Publishing, and the author - Rusty Young, for the opportunity to review this title

I have given the book a rating of 3 stars. I was very excited and couldn't wait to start reading, but unfortunately.... it's not my style of genre.

I felt the book focused too much on describing character backstories and less time focusing on keeping the story interesting for the reader.
Profile Image for Sumit RK.
638 reviews468 followers
February 29, 2020

You have to pick a side. Or one will be picked for You. .

Set in Colombia, Colombiano is an epic story of revenge and vengeance. Blending fact and fiction, Colombiano narrates the story of a teenager Pedro Gutiérrez whose life is ripped apart when Guerrilla soldiers callously execute his father in front of his eyes and he and his mother are banished from their farm. Swearing vengeance against the five men responsible, Pedro, with his best friend Palillo, joins an illegal Paramilitary group, where he is trained to fight the guerrillas. Soon Pedro finds himself sinking deeper and deeper into Colombia’s civil war and into a world of unspeakable violence. Pedro must now decide how far he is willing to go for vendetta. Can he stop himself before he becomes exactly what he despises?

At the heart of the story, Colombiano is an epic tale of revenge of a boy set against the backdrop of a raging civil war. While the story explores in great detail, the war between the Colombian Govt, Autodefensas and the Guerrillas, Pedro remains at the center of the story always. We follow Pedro as he rises through the ranks, and fights in deadly missions, all the while with the turmoil in his personal life and planning to kill those who killed his father.

Rusty Young has worked secretly for the US government in Colombia for four years and that shows in his research which is top-notch as well the characters he has created which all seem so real. The story has some excellent characters, particularly Pedro and his friends. We feel a part of them as they undergo brutal training, go on missions, we feel their happiness and sorrow as a part of the squad.

At almost 700 pages, the book is long but the pace and the short chapters make it a fast read. There are parts of this book that are quite gruesome and the story does not gloss over the horrors of a full-blown civil war. From the training of child soldiers to torture and body mutilation, the violence in this book is raw and hard to read at times. I felt the book focused too much on the character backstories and Pedro’s personal revenge. The story could have focused on the bigger story of civil war instead. Having said that, Pedro’s personal journey from seeking revenge to slowly realizing the futility of it all is an incredible journey and which makes the book immensely readable.

Overall, Colombiano is a well-researched and chillingly realistic insight into the civil war in Colombia. It is well written, perfectly paced and if you enjoy reading action thrillers, you should absolutely read this.

Many thanks to the publishers Havelock & Baker Publishing and Netgalley for the ARC.
Profile Image for Carole.
503 reviews92 followers
January 18, 2020
Colombiano by Rusty Young is a story you will not soon forget. This is a work of fiction though the horrors of the Colombian civil war and its aftermath are part of history. The author worked in Colombia with the Anti-Kidnapping Program in a country that averaged eight kidnappings per day. While in-country, he interviewed the child soldiers on both sides of the war and these are the basis of this novel. Pedro, a fifteen-year-old boy, witnessed the execution of his father, by guerillas. He was executed for allegedly providing drinking water to their enemies. They then banned Pedro and his mother from their farm. The boy vowed to avenge his father’s death and joined and was trained by the paramilitaries. Brutality became part of his daily existence. This is a story of revenge and a story of children fighting a war. I admit that I skipped some passages due to the graphic violence but this is a book that needed to be written and needs to be read. Thank you to Havelock & Baker Publishing and NetGalley for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Lindsay L.
679 reviews1,323 followers
January 29, 2020
“...what sort of justice can exist in such a corrupt, hypocritical system?”

5 stunningly powerful stars!

Tension-filled. Eye-opening. Pulse-pounding. Suspenseful. Gut-wrenching. Unforgettable.

Growing up in Colombia, Pedro is only fifteen years old when he is forced to watch guerrilla soldiers execute his father. Vowing to seek revenge, he joins the Paramilitaries where he spends the next two and a half years hunting his fathers killers. Based on Pedro’s real life story, this book details the torturous training, brutal violence and gruesome brainwashing that is forced upon these child soldiers.

Pedro was a character I connected with immediately and felt completely invested in on each and every one of the 689 pages. This book took me longer than usual to finish, not because it didn’t keep my attention, but because it affected me so deeply that I had to take breaks from it to calm myself down and accept what was happening to Pedro. His story is not an easy one to read. It will break your heart and frustrate you. It will give you hope, only to have you turn the page and find that hope being stomped on and buried deep in the ground.

There are endless powerful words I could use to describe this book. It is truly one I will never forget reading. I applaud the author, Rusty Young, for writing this outstanding story. Rusty is a brave journalist who lives in Colombia and has first hand experience with many rescued child soldiers going through rehabilitation. He gave a voice to Pedro which represents the voices of countless child soldiers who have faced the atrocities that are described within these pages. A truly powerful and important read that I highly recommend!

Thank you to Havelock & Baker Publishing for sending me a physical copy! This is a book I wouldn’t have picked up on my own. Thank you for taking me outside of my comfort zone and giving me the opportunity to read Pedro’s unforgettable story.
Profile Image for Jaidee.
605 reviews1,199 followers
March 23, 2022
3 "relentless, vivid, overly lengthy, Hollywoodesque" stars !!

The 2021 Most Average of Average Award

Thank you to Netgalley, the author and Havelock & Baker publishing. This edition was released in February 2020 but was originally released in Australia in 2017. I am providing my honest review.

I feel so mixed about this novel. I have spent almost the entire winter reading this book (off and on).

I appreciated some of this book and was absolutely exasperated with important features.

What I appreciated:

1. the vivid telling of the story
2. logical and carefully laid out sequencing of events
3. educative aspects of the political scene in Colombia
4. detailed description of the training of child and adolescent soldiers
5. a portion of the proceeds of the book goes to rehabilitation of child/adolescent soldiers

What bothered me (a lot)

1. the flimsy depiction of psychological sequelae of trauma
2. the lack of a coherent psychology of individual characters (author does much better at the politics, culture and sociology)
3. the spoonfeeding of moralism and "lessons to be learned"
4. the length of this book ....could have been cut in half easily

I am not sure if I benefited from reading this book or not. I was at times very entertained and informed but perhaps this could have been better done in a lengthy Vanity Fair article.

Profile Image for Beverly.
833 reviews313 followers
September 22, 2019
Colombiano is an account of the horrific violence endured by the citizens of Colombia in their decades old civil war fought between the government and the socialist terrorist organization FARC. There are paramilitary groups also involved who are supposedly on the side of the government, but are really just another set of terrorists, as illustrated by this novel.

A young boy named Pedro is the main character, who having watched his father be executed by FARC, determines to kill the men who did it. He joins a paramilitary group and goes through the brutal and gruesome indoctrination that desensitizes him to torture and murder. Starting at age 15 until 18 we witness his corruption as he becomes like the men who his father despised.

This is an interesting and action packed read, but I felt it was too long and a bit repetitive. The ending was particularly torturous, as the author tacks on so much follow up, it becomes anti-climatic.

I received a copy of this book from Havelock & Baker Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for an open and honest review.
Profile Image for Nadia.
271 reviews178 followers
September 1, 2019
There are books I loved, but forgot about them in a few weeks. And then there are books I loved and won't be able to forget for a long time. Colombiano definitely belongs to the latter category. Even though it is a work of fiction, it is based on a true conflict in Colombia between the comunist Guerillas and opposing Paramilitaries. The author interviewed numerous former child soldiers whose tragic stories are told in the book.

Pedro is a 15 year old boy who lives on a farm in Llorona, Colombia, with his father and mother. Pedro has a simple but happy life and spends most of his time with his beutiful girlfriend Camilla and his best friend Palillo. Everything changes for Pedro one Wednesday morning when the Guerillas come to Pedro's parents farm and kill Pedro's father. The 15 year old carefree boy has no choice other than to grow up overnight to take care of his mother. Hurting and grieving Pedro swears to kill all the Guerilla's who participated in his father's killing. To achieve his revenge Pedro and Palillo join the paramilitaries and start training to become soldiers.

Told from Pedro's point of view, Colombiano is an unforgettable story of a young boy's transformation of becoming a teen soldier in order to avenge his father's murder. I'm personally an emotional reader and connecting with the main character is vital for me. Connecting with Pedro couldn't have been easier and I was fully invested in his story. Pedro's pain from losing his beloved father was palpable and I didn't doubt for a second that he was going to track down his killers as he set himself to do.

Powerful, gritty and raw, Colombiano provides an uncompromising look at the war conflict, corruption and drug-trafficking in Colombia via a tragic and intense story of a young boy. This must be one of my best reads in 2019.

Many thanks to Havelock & Baker Publishing for my copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for exploraDora.
552 reviews270 followers
May 5, 2020

***most deserving 5 star rating I have ever given***

"Nevertheless, right then and there, I resolved that one day I'd tell my life story to someone who would be willing to publish it. I know I've done terrible things - killed people and even worse. I know I've lied to those I love. But people need to know that this is not a lie. The things I've witnessed with these eyes - these stories I'm telling you - they're too horrible for anyone to invent. This is the truth about Colombia and I want people to know it."

I don’t know if there is anything I can say about this book that would do it justice. It's been well over a day since I finished reading it and I still can barely put into words how amazing it is! Probably the best book I've read in I don't know how long and a story that will stay with me to the end of times.

Colombiano is the powerful tale of a fifteen year old boy named Pedro, who joins an illegal paramilitary group after he was forced to watch his father being brutally murdered right in front of him by the FARC guerrilla. As if this wasn't the worst thing that could happen to him, he and his mother are also banished from their family's farm. Furious and overcome with grief, he vows to find and punish the men responsible.

As the story goes on, Pedro spirals deep into a world of unspeakable violence. Having already murdered two of the men responsible for his father's death, he finds himself at a crossroads - can he stop himself before he becomes just like the ones he is hunting or will he let his obsession with revenge take everything all he has left?

I started reading this book in November last year and only finished it the other day, but not for a lack of trying or because it isn't good.

It is haunting.
It is gripping and poignant.
It is destined to provoke, enlighten and it's just so utterly captivating.

But it's 689 pages long and I couldn't always find the right times to read it. As a matter of fact, I am actually glad I took my time to enjoy it, because this way I could let each chapter sink in, rather than just taking too much in at once.

Colombiano is not only a gripping coming of age novel, it offers a glimpse into a dark side of Colombia's history, while also showing the redeeming power of love. I want to say more about the plot because there is SO much going on, but I also don't want to spoil anything for any future readers. That is why I'll stop here.

But one more thing: if you get the chance READ. THIS. BOOK.!!!

***Thanks to Lily Green at Havelock & Baker Publishing and to NetGalley, who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.***
Profile Image for Paula K .
435 reviews417 followers
December 19, 2019
Columbiano is a fast paced thriller about 15 year old Pedro Gutierrez who witnesses the execution of his father by ruthless Guerrilla soldiers. Like many other child soldiers in Columbia he joins opposing forces to seek retribution for his father’s death.

The book is well researched and very informative. Rusty Young shows this world of violence, crime, corruption, and drugs through his own experiences in Columbia. I would have liked to see the book with far less pages.

3 out of 5 stars

Many thanks to Lily Green at Havelock & Baker Publishing and NetGalley for the ARC of Columbiano in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Paige.
152 reviews299 followers
September 2, 2019
Based on true events, this story of revenge, betrayal, and corruption follows the fictional character Pedro. Growing up in Llorona, a war-torn land who makes good on the promise to kill those who snitch, Pedro witnesses the murder of his father. At fifteen years old, going on sixteen, he joins the Autodefensas in order to extract revenge on the Guerillas who killed his father. However, his alliance with the Autodefensas creates conflicts in his relationships. It truly is a great story with remarkable characters that endured so much. From the drug trafficking to the kidnappings, I really enjoyed it.

Now, to my technical details! Early on his father is killed and Pedro vows to kill each man who took part in his father’s murder. After this occurs and he joins the paramilitary, Pedro’s training with the Autodefensas is detailed until 24% (on a Kindle). That leaves 25%-97% being the tale of a teenage boy carrying out revenge. It is an 800+ page book, so this was a very drawn-out revenge. It just kept going and going with him trying to find the next person who was involved in his father's murder, and I took off an entire star because of it. At a certain point (55% for those interested) I wanted the revenge to be over and the story to progress, but Pedro still had more revenge to pursue. Though entertaining and a powerful story, this left me feeling winded as a reader.

It was full of thoughtful and meaningful prose which caused me to highlight a lot. It has a lot of violence and vulgar content, too: scenes with dead body parts floating in the water, boys calling each other s.o.b’s every few pages, etc. There are a few sex scenes, but the sexy details are not included.

There are many Spanish words, but most are cognates. However, if you are unfamiliar with basic Spanish words then I recommend reading on a Kindle in order to translate. There is a glossary of Spanish terms at the end, but that seems superfluous to have to flip back and forth, but do you boo.

I recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction and those with multicultural interests. Overall, a great compelling read about a boy soldier in Colombia with many well-researched details. Many thanks to Lily Green at Havelock & Baker Publishing for this copy. All opinions are my own.
Profile Image for SimitudeSims.
94 reviews20 followers
January 24, 2020
This book was so exciting. I was at the edge of my seat heart racing during most of the book. It does have some gruesome parts which was expected. I don't know about you all but it's easier for me to read it than see it. The writing was exceptional. The moment I got to the end of a chapter and thought I could put the book down, there was an interesting chapter lead in. How did he know? Anyways, I highly recommend this book. You won't regret it (or less you're really squeamish)
Profile Image for Lorna.
719 reviews417 followers
February 16, 2022
Colombiano is a riveting look at Colombia, South America following the reign of terror of drug lord Pablo Escobar and the Medellin with the illegal trafficking of cocaine and all of the associated crime and human carnage and devastation. Rusty Young is from Australia and was in Colombia for four years secretly working for the government of the United States in Colombia. It was during this time that he became aware of the shocking stories of the child soldiers and he vowed that one day he would tell their compelling stories and let their voices be heard.

Pedro Gutierrez is a bright and loving fifteen-year old boy, happy with his parents on their little farm, their finca and in love with his girlfriend Camilla. These are the halcyon days when Pedro loves his village, fishing trips with his father, hanging out with his best friend, Palillo, and planning his future on the family farm. Then one night his world is shattered when the Guerillas come to their farm accusing his father of being a traitor and assassinate him in cold blood while Pedro watches in horror. He takes mental notes of the killers and vows that he will avenge his father's death. He and Palillo join the paramilitary, the Autodefensa and his life is forever changed. They vow also to rid their community, Llorona, of the Guerillas and all of the crime associated with their occupation. This is a riveting and in many ways a violent book but I am afraid very accurate in its portrayal. However, it is also a story of love and loyalty and family, as well as the exploration of vengeance and what can result. This was an outstanding book, perhaps a little long but it was a quick read. The characters were well developed and the sense of place compelling. Clearly the author, Rusty Young, was successful in his mission of telling the stories of the child soldier in a searing and unforgettable way. Mr. Young says it best in the following quotes from the Author's Prologue in his book:

"The more emotionally involved I became with the child soldiers' stories, the harder I found it to maintain any pretence of journalistic objectivity. Ultimately, I decided to weave their stories into a novel."

"These children's pasts were complicated and painful. Their stories affected me deeply and changed my life. I felt they needed to be told."

I would like to thank Lily and Havelock & Baker Publishers for kindly providing me with an advanced reader's copy in exchange for my thoughts on the book.
Profile Image for Martin.
327 reviews143 followers
December 21, 2019
Based on the true struggles of the country of Colombia to rid itself of the drug.
Child soldiers recruited to fight other teenagers in one big cycle of interconnected violence in a struggle for power, financed by cocaine trafficking. The innocent, and not so innocent people of Columbia were caught in the middle of a war between the drug lords, traffickers, police, army and the paramilitary groups.
And yet a love story blooms on this battlefield . . .


A typical teenager dreams of having a lovely girlfriend
It seemed everyone wanted to leave Llorona, and they wanted me to leave too. Palillo wanted me to join the Paramilitaries. As for Camila, she wanted to study fine arts in Bogotá. We’d been dating for two years but already she’d mapped out our lives. Top of her grade, she was going to university. If her family couldn’t afford the tuition fees, we’d run away and live in a studio apartment in the capital, catch a bus to work in the morning, cook dinner over a tiny stove and scrimp and save for utility bills.

The war comes too close
They came on a Wednesday to execute my father.
Looking back, I should have sensed something amiss during morning Mass three days earlier. The new priest’s maiden sermon had left the congregation divided – some bored, some irate – never a good omen in a small Colombian town.
When the congregation rose to leave, Señor Muñoz, the father of my girlfriend Camila, paused briefly in the aisle and leaned towards Papá.
‘May I talk to you outside?’ Glancing at me, he added, ‘In private.’
I was fifteen years old and in adolescent limbo: not old enough to be included in adult discussions yet not young enough to run off and play. While the grown-ups talked, I stood shiftily on the church steps with Camila and my best friend, Palillo, waiting for them to finish.

. . .

Papá’s conversation with Señor Muñoz on the church steps that day was merely the latest in a series of warning signs that had begun gathering like slow-circling vultures over an injured animal. First, the 3.30 am cylinder bombs that had rained down on Llorona’s main street a month earlier. Second, the clandestine night-time burial of Farmer Díaz, who’d been kidnapped and then murdered by the Guerrilla. And third, the bullet through the church’s stained-glass window that had prompted the old priest’s transfer to Bogotá for reasons of personal safety.
It was all big news. It was all connected. And it was all leading up to something bigger.

A history lesson
Papá explained that war was not a game. For over a decade, he said, the Guerrilla had controlled the three river villages to the south of Llorona. The army controlled Garbanzos, the nearest major town. But Llorona was different. The army patrolled inside the town’s perimeter; the Guerrilla controlled the surrounding countryside. Over the years, the warring sides had reached an informal truce: the Guerrilla didn’t attack Llorona and the army didn’t go looking for them or their camps. Our finca, or farm, was four kilometres from the plaza. As such, we lived in the grey area on the border between two enemies and had to contend with pressure from both groups.
After Papá’s explanation, I began seeing things properly. I’d always thought the soldiers who crossed our land were from the army’s battalion in Garbanzos. Some of them were, but others were members of the army’s enemy, the communist Guerrilla. The army and Guerrilla looked similar. Both had short haircuts, wore green camouflage uniforms and hats, and carried rifles. Papá, who’d always told me to go inside whenever they came, now kept me next to him.

Choose a side
Palillo hated the Guerrilla for causing his father’s death. And since his father’s death had caused his stepfather’s arrival, he hated them even more. Not to mention how much he hated them for causing his move to Llorona. He said it was a shitty town with shitty people, where there was nothing to do except smoke cigarettes. He wanted out. But boys in Llorona knew there were only two ways to leave town – the Guerrilla or the army. Eighteen was the minimum age to join the army; Palillo had already presented himself twice at the gates of the army barracks, claiming to have lost his birth certificate, to no avail. Now, with the arrival of the Paramilitaries in Garbanzos, there was a third option.
The Paramilitaries had no minimum age; you simply had to be big enough to carry a pack and fire a rifle. Those who left rarely returned to Llorona – it was too dangerous if the Guerrilla found out – although some had been sighted in Garbanzos. They now cruised around in four-wheel drives or rode motorbikes. They wore new sneakers and jeans with the latest cell phones hooked to their belts. Under their shirts, many concealed pistols. They drank beer in public plazas. Their parents no longer told them what to do. Pretty girls pointed at them. Older men avoided them. They had respect.
‘You’ll get yourself killed,’ I warned Palillo when he mentioned joining.
He shrugged. ‘Better to die from a bullet than boredom.’

The beginning of the end
Caraquemada raised the pistol and touched his finger to the trigger.
Papá cried out, ‘Look after your mother.’
‘No. No. No!’ I screamed, bucking desperately from the ground. But Caraquemada fired. I heard the hollow pop of the pistol and watched my father’s head jerk suddenly. Then he teetered on his feet for an impossibly long time before tilting forward slowly like a tree dealt its final axe-blow.
‘Let’s move out!’ ordered Caraquemada, turning away.
How strange, I thought, that Papá did not try to break his fall. His knees buckled and I heard Mamá wailing as she dashed from the house, and then a terrible crack as Papá’s skull struck the hard, dry earth.

His father's death forced Pedro to side with the Paramilitaries. He wanted to hunt down all the Guerrilla soldiers responsible for killing his father.
He undergoes basic training, learns how to kill with knife and gun, and toughens his body to be able to carry out his personal revenge.
Peace talks stop the Army from fighting the Guerrilla, but the Paramilitary continues the war.


This would be an exciting story even if it was fiction - but it was real and that made it most chilling

The good people of the Havelock & Baker publishing house gave me a copy of "Columbiano" in return for my unbiased review. I must admit that this is not my favorite genre, but after reading the first chapter I was caught up in following the fates of these child soldiers.


Profile Image for Carolyn (on vacation).
2,245 reviews642 followers
February 3, 2020
Colombiano is a big book, a very big book both in length and scope, but don’t let the page count or the topic put you off. It’s a well written, wholly absorbing account of a boy soldier’s experience of the guerilla/paramilitary warfare that nearly ripped apart and destroyed Colombia.

Pedro Gutiérrez was only fifteen when he watched guerrilla soldiers march into his family’s farm and kill his father, a good and honest man. Vowing revenge and too young to join the army, Pedro and his friend Palillo joined the paramilitary Autodefencas. Surviving brutal basic training alongside other teenagers and children, Pedro eventually wins the trust of those in command and sets about hunting down the men who killed his father and continue to terrorize his village.

With insight gained from years of working undercover in Colombia and more recently of interviewing ex-child soldiers, Rusty Young has written a powerful account of the Colombian conflict driven originally by politics and fuelled by money and cocaine. It’s a hard book to read as the ongoing brutality of what people will do to each other is very intense and I found I had to put the book down quite often for a breather. However, the violence is based on real accounts and is essential in the telling of the horrors these young soldiers had to endure in this very real conflict. Although the characters become hardened to the violence, they never lose their basic humanity in caring for each other and their families, as Pedro shows once his thirst for revenge has been assuaged.

This is not a book I would have thought to choose for myself, so I am very grateful that Havelock & Baker Publishing offered me a copy to read. It's a book I will keep thinking about for some time.

For those wanting to know more about the author and why he wrote this book, here is a link to an interview from an Australian news program https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VPWL...
Profile Image for Rafa.
66 reviews101 followers
May 15, 2022
*Thanks to Lily at Havelock & Baker for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.*
"One placard - in red, childish writing - simply read: HOLA PAPÁ! I LOVE YOU!"

This is the most innocent act in this whole book. And I wanted to cry after reading it. But of course, I couldn't. I was in a bus, travelling.

I am not usually a girl to cry over a few emotional acts or pages. But I had to hold back my tears a couple of times while reading this book. And I literally mean this. I simply don't have the words to say how I feel about this book. This is masterfully written. I cannot say enough about the writing style. This book is not fast-paced but it, flawlessly, tells a lot of things in a very few pages!! It is a fabulous, fabulous fiction and a horrible, heart-wrenching truth.... The reality of this book terrifies me!

And now, the quote from the back cover that everyone already seems to know:
'Eventually, you have to pick a side. Or one will be picked for you...'

I don't think you will need to read a lot of pages before you start realizing the depth and truth behind this quote. If this book is out of your comfort zone, I still insist you give it a try..... It contains so much more than I will ever be able to express in words.
Undoubtedly the very best book I have ever read!

***And finally, one small note of gratitude. It's always a great feeling whenever I receive a signed copy. But I never really brag about it. This time, I am gonna. I am really happy and specially thankful that Rusty Young signed my copy!!!!!!!!!!
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,485 reviews842 followers
May 8, 2020
“When I was eight, the boy I’d sat next to in class was hit by a truck. Devastated, I refused to go to school. But knowing there had been a time before our friendship made it possible to imagine a time after. A parent is different. There is no time before a parent. A parent is always.”

This is a long, terrifying look at the worst of the disaster that awaits those in Colombia who dare to cross the . . . well, the army, the Guerrillas, or the paramilitary vigilantes that form a third force. All of them seem to get mixed up in or affected by the drug trade somewhere along the line, and the children who are gathered into the fold by Guerrillas and paramilitary forces are indoctrinated young.

The Australian-born author lived in Colombia and spent a lot of time with the youngsters about whom this is written. It is written as fiction, but told in the first person by Pedro, who's just lost his father and can’t imagine life without him. I would say this is something like a ghost-written autobiography, but with the addition of conversations, romance, and the fierce feelings of a teen-aged boy who grows old and jaded before his time.

He gives us good background on how Colombians ended up stuck not just between a rock and hard place, but between a rock, a hard place, and an impossible place. There is no way out. Elections and government are far removed from the villages where the action takes place. Sure, they have them, but it’s like the Mafia – pay your ever-increasing protection money, and we won’t burn your place down and torture you.

They call these ‘vacunas’, vaccinations – which should be protection enough, right? But what happens when you’ve paid the guerrilla forces but not someone else who’s threatening you?

“But in a country with two terrorist organisations whose members numbered in the tens of thousands, it didn’t pay to advertise my job. The first group was the FARC Guerrilla. In the 1960s, peasant farmers took up arms, aiming to fight poverty and social inequality by toppling the government and installing communist rule. To fund their revolution, they ‘taxed’ businesses and kidnapped the rich, appropriating their lands for redistribution to the poor.

The second group – the Paramilitaries – was created in response. Wealthy land and business owners, tired of the government’s failure to protect them, formed their own private militias and ‘death squads’.”

Pedro is a kid, fifteen, and the only way he can fight against the Guerrillas who killed his father is to join the paramilitaries, the Autodefensas, since he’s too young for the army. He and his friends live in the small town of Llorona.

“In Llorona, we didn’t call them Autodefensas or Paramilitaries, or even paras or paracos like they did in newspapers. They were simply los duros – the hard men. The duros were the archenemy of the Guerrilla. Fearsome hit squads committed to wiping out communism, they’d been founded in cities and worked their way into towns and villages, then outwards into the mountains where Guerrilla bases were located.””

And why do they have this overwhelming need to join up and fight? Here’s the Guerrilla leader talking to Pedro’s mother

“Zorrillo looked from Mamá to me. ‘We know your names. We know where you …’ he paused to smirk, ‘used to live. We have people everywhere watching. There’s nowhere in this country we won’t find you. The penalty for defiance is death.’ He fired his rifle into the air. ‘¡Viva la revolución!’

I will not quote any of the horrific, blood-curdling descriptions of what happens to those who break the rules. Alongside those are poignant episodes about loyalty, tender teen-age love, friends protecting each other and their families, and the almost adoptive approach that some superiors took to the young kids in their charge – until they broke some rule. Incidentally, they recruit both boys and girls.

It’s scary stuff, well-written with great feeling, and an exciting story. It is long, and I found myself skimming some sections in the middle, wondering who those editors are who condense books for The Reader’s Digest. Somehow, an exceptional editor can tighten up a long story and make it more accessible to readers without losing the essence.

The politics, the intrigue, the double-dealing, the change of loyalties – it’s all here, and it’s all terrifying. Again, I feel lucky to have had the life I’ve had. From the author’s epilogue:

“At the peak of the war, an estimated 11,000 to 14,000 children were involved in the conflict, a third of whom were girls. The former soldiers, some as young as eight when they joined, described in detail their reasons for enlisting, their hatred of the enemy, their gruelling military training, their political indoctrination and their horrific experiences in battle.”

It’s an excellent book, published in 2017, and I congratulate the author on his work. I also thank NetGalley and Havelock and Baker Publishing for my copy for review.

There’s an interview with the author here:
Profile Image for Toni.
515 reviews
August 21, 2019
Review to come.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.
Profile Image for Carolyn Walsh .
1,540 reviews595 followers
August 19, 2019
Many thanks to NetGalley and Havelock & Baker for providing me with this engrossing, intense ARC in return for an honest review. This was a powerful epic which featured violence, family devotion, moral choices, young love, and a country ripped apart.

I found the story informative and was totally absorbed. I had been in Colombia a very short time in a small town on the Amazon, but my knowledge of the country was severely limited. I knew a bit about Pablo Escobar from Netflix, and how the country was the centre of jungle drug labs, cocaine manufacturing and distribution. I was aware of political turmoil, guerrilla insurgents, death squads, kidnapping, which made it a dangerous place. Reading the book gave me a greater understanding of the country, and how it’s people often had to go against their moral values to survive.

The almost 700 pages was not a deterrent, as I was gripped by the exciting, suspenseful plot from the beginning. Everything was important to understand the extreme dangers, heartbreaking losses, and the mindsets of the characters.

Pedro Gutierrez was a normal fifteen-year-old boy who enjoyed helping on the family farm, going fishing with his father, attending church with his mother, and hanging out with his girlfriend, Camila, and with his best friend, Palillo. One terrible day he witnessed his father brutally murdered by guerrilla soldiers. He and his mother were ordered off their farm and forbidden to give the father a religious burial on consecrated grounds. Pedro vowed revenge on his father’s killers.

This led Pedro with his friend, Palillo, to voluntarily join the Autodefencas, a paramilitary group where they endured brutal training and rose in the ranks. Pedro witnessed barbaric torture of guerrilla fighters and their deadly retaliation. The training led to a moral descent and hardened him for vengeance for his father’s death. Thoughts of revenge became an obsession.

Paramilitary groups, which included the Autodefencas, were comprised mainly of wealthy land or business owners who formed private armies and death squads. Both the paramilitaries and the guerrilla fighters trained and utilized child soldiers. Some were tricked or kidnapped into the militia. Others joined willingly, preferring the training camps to abusive situations at home.

The Guerrillas consisted mainly of peasants. They claimed to be fighting against poverty and social inequality with the aim of toppling the government and replacing it with communism.

The author, Rusty Young, interviewed child soldiers in Colombia. This is a brilliant work of fiction and has a definite ring of truth.
Profile Image for Michelle.
1,379 reviews140 followers
June 30, 2019
"Its strange to think that a quick decision taken in the heat of a single moment could change the course of a boys life".

And that one quote sums up 700 pages of text.

This is the story for Pedro and his friends, all teenagers, all for various reasons are tangled up in war funded by cocaine, criminals and the corrupt. This is the story of how ruthless human beings can be.

I haven't read much on Colombia and from the first chapter I was pulled in, this book is so readable the words flow as easily as the Colombian rivers mentioned. As someone who doesn't mind reading a bit of gore I had to put this book down on many occasions due to the graphic content, maybe because it's based on true stories, maybe because its teenagers or maybe because it's so damn real I felt I was there.

This book made me think of all the wars going on today, all the children being trained as fighters, the corruption, the blind eyes.

I felt a lot of things reading this book but not the 700 pages. This book is a journey that deserves every star available.
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