Nerds Heart YA : It’s On Like Donkey Kong: Guantanamo Boy vs. Gringolandia


Guantananmo Boy Anna Perera Book Cover

Guantananmo Boy

Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera
Khalid Ahmad is a 15 year old English boy. He watches and plays futbal, works hard at school, has strong family values and an affinity for computer games. He takes a trip to Pakistan with his family, as his father must clean up loose ends after his grandmother dies. Of course, Khalid is in Pakistan in the wake of 9/11 and is picked up for being a terrorist. He is then thrown in jail without a trail, his habeous corpus suspended — however I don’t know if England has habeous corpus. Right-o. Of course, Khalid winds up in Guantanamo, which breaks several geneval laws.

What I notice about Guantanamo Boy is the underlying political statements. It is very critical of the war on terror. It is very critical of Guantanamo Bay. For the most part, I understand that criticism. However, I felt it was just a little too blatant for me. I’m not very comfortable when someone forces their political opinion on me. Yet, I do think what Perera has done in raising awareness about the unfair practices of Guantanamo Bay is fabulous.

One thing which bothered me, it may not bother you, was the graphic descriptions of the torture Khalid underwent. I’m conflicted as I write this because I especially found it disturbing. However, I suppose being edgy is necessary to get the point across about just how bad torture is, and how confessions extracted under duress aren’t quite real confessions at all.

Guantanmo Boy was a compelling read, but THE MESSAGE was a little too loud, clear, and blatant for me. I thought this was an average message read.

Gringolandia by Lyn Miller-Lachman
Imagine waking up to soldiers in the middle of the night. Your father is dragged off and you don’t know if you will ever see him again. A few years down the line, you have perfectly adjusted to a new life, when you find out your father is released from the prison he was placed in. If these things happen to you, chances are you are a character named Daniel in a book called Gringolandia.

Gringolandia takes place during the magical 80s. Turns out, 80s wasn’t all great tv, movies and music. Actual things were happening in the world such as the Chilean revolution. What happened is the Chileans elected a socialist person to power. The US was like, no way bro, and totally killed the socialist and instituted a dictator in power. The Chileans were all, we don’t like this! And people rebelled and fought for freedom. Daniel, who is the main character, has a freedom fighter father, who was TORTURED in jail. So his dad, understandably is messed up by that. Oh, and I forgot to mention, Daniel and his family now live in the United States.

I thought Gringolandia worked on several different levels. Characterization was tight. See, Daniel was layered. His dad is layered. OH and he has this girlfriend, Courtney, who sort of forced me to confront these ridiculous ideas I had. I’m not gonna lie, I thought Courtney was so annoying, because she was all trying to do annoying things like write a social justice newspaper and ask Daniel’s dad these probing questions for her newspaper. Then she gets herself into these dangerous situations. But then I thought, self, would you be annoyed if she was a male? Or would you just think her very courageous? I like it when a book makes me consider my brainwaves.

As historical fiction, I thought Gringolandia was both absorbing and informative. I don’t know much about the Chilean revolution except when Howard Zinn mentioned it in A People’s History of the United States. I do think getting a teenager’s perspective made the learning much more engaging. The teenager wasn’t one of those fake ones either, you know, when the character seems contrived. I liked that the history was part of the story, but not the whole story.

The next layer which worked especially well was the family relationships. What I love here is just how complicated the relationships are. I don’t know if I’m weird, but my relationship with my family is complicated. I love my family, but they do some very annoying things and I do very annoying things. Well, the way Daniel’s father relates to his family is multilayered. On the one hand, he cares for his family. On the other, he is so messed up from being tortured, all he can think about is Chile and going back. Plus, he’s dealing with all of these other problems. I won’t go too in-depth, so as not to spoil.

In a nutshell, I found myself compelled during Gringolandia.

Books Throw Down:

Accessability – in terms of storyline, getting an actual copy, and relatablity – Gringolandia was easy to obtain, the characters were deep, and I felt a connection.
Guantanmo Boy – No copies on Amazon, I had to purchase a kindle copy and read it on my iPhone. Khalid is an average teenage boy, concerned about soccer and girls. I could seen teenage boys relating to him.
Point Goes To: Gringolandia

Knowledge Gained: In Guantanamo Boy, I learned all different methods of torture, graphically. I learned all the reasons why it sucks. I learned a message. Of peace. In Gringolandia, I learned about Chile, it’s history, and a couple of Spanish words.
Point Goes To: Guantanamo Boy

Wordsmithying: Totally not a real word. Gringolandia was fast paced with deep characters who I actually cared about. Guantanamo Boy has only one character we get to know, but we really get to dive below the surface.
Point Goes To: Gringolandia

Ultimate Winner: GRINGOLANDIA
Check out Nerds Heart YA for more on underrepresented YA books!

Disclosure: I bought both of these books.

Purchase Gringolandia at these retailers:

Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Better World Books/ The Book Depository / Indiebound

Purchase Guantananmo Boy at these retailers:


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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. Such a fun review April. I think this was the pairing I was most worried about us giving to anyone because torture is one of my agggghhh subjects where I really have to screw up my courage to read on – thought it might turn off reviewers. I'm glad you learned a lot and enjoyed Gringolandia so much.

  2. Sounds like some thought-provoking books! Good for you for reading through some challenging materials.

  3. Alexia561 says

    Don't think I'll be reading either of these, but enjoyed your reviews and the throw down at the end! Great job!

  4. I wonder if Guantanamo Boy was unavailable on Amazon by its publisher's choice or because of the subject matter it deals with. Are they, possibly, having a harder time getting it stocked in a lot of stores both retail and online? Possibly not, just thought to ask!

  5. Ooh you changed your page! Looks nice. 🙂

    I think I would have made the same choice as you, based on the way you describe the books.

  6. I like the new look.
    I haven't read Guantanamo Boy but I really enjoyed Gringolandia.

    I understand what you mean about the message being too loud. There is a fine balance between lesson and story.

    Some of the joy of a novel is lost for me when there is more lesson than story.

    loving the Books Throw Down,

  7. Lyn Miller-Lachmann says

    Thank you for the enthusiastic review and for sending Gringolandia on to the next round. I'm glad you mentioned that Gunatanamo Boy is available as an e-book, unrestrained by national borders, as I downloaded it yesterday and got almost all the way through it before the battery on my iPod Touch died. It's an important story that needs to be told in the U.S., especially since network TV shows like "24" make torture seem both useful against terrorism and entertaining.

    Guantanamo Boy accurately shows what goes on in U.S.-run prisons around the world, and both it and Gringolandia depict the real impact of torture on the individual, his or her family, and the community. In the case of Guantanamo Boy, the British town, Rochdale, comes together in support of Khalid, but the actions of the U.S. have created enemies among people who would otherwise be friends.

  8. Montgomery says

    There's a lot of misinformation out there about the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, how they got there, and how they were treated. First of all, no matter what they say after they are released, these guys were, at the very least, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and doing the wrong thing. Criminal? Maybe not, but the U.S. had clearly said it was going into Afghanistan with the purpose of finding Osamma bin Ladin and defeating the Taliban and al Qaeda. What we got once we were there was a lot of Taliban, some al Qaeda, but alos soldiers-of-fortune, and mercinaries (i.e. David Hicks of Australia). Over 20 languages were spoken by over 250 detainees when I arrived there with my Enemy Prisoner of War Army Reserve unit, the 455th Military Plice Detachment (Briagade Liaison Detatchment). I was the ranking Army Medical Department officer, and I kept a journal while I was there that was recently published: "Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay: A Memoir of a Citizen Warrior," by Strategic Book Publishing, April 2010. The detainees were ver y well cared for, sometimes better than U.S> personnel. And at all times the International Committee of the Red Cross had visibility and full access to the detainees and the camp. We met with the ICRC regularly, and I had many unofficial conversations with them. The "abuse" went both ways, and many times the U.S. personnel got the worst of it from the detainees, but you'll never read about this in the papers. As for the Geneva Conventions, neither the Taliban nor al Qaeda were signators to the Conventions, and neither met the requirements to be classified as POWs. There are detainees because they were illegal combatants, not following the Law of Land Warfare. The are not entitled to habeas corpus because of their status. In WW II German spies were caught on mainland U.S> soil, and even then the Supreme Court ruled that they should be tried by military commission (since we were at war and the spies violated the Geneva Conventions by not being in uniform and carrying their arms openly), and that they were not U.S. Citizens, and therefore had not right to habeas corpus. Also, in the American Civil War, president Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus and established military commissions for civilians. As commander-in-Chief, it was Lincoln's duty to do whatever was necessary to protect the Union and keep it together. So too, must Presiden Obama, our current Commander-in-Chief, protect us from those who would destroy us if they had the chance. We have trrops in over 70 countries world wide ("Soldier" magazine almanac, the official magazine fo the U.S. Army), including countries we defeated during WW II and are now friends with.

    To learn more, visit:

  9. Lyn Miller-Lachmann says

    Anna Perera, the author of Guantanamo Boy, is traveling, but she asked me to send the following in response to Montgomery's comment:

    "‘Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding,’ said Albert Einstein. I’m a pacifist. The use of torture in Guantanamo Bay has been admitted by the US Government. The facts are indisputable. Look up The Torture Tapes on google. However, my book, strangely enough, is also about peace, forgiveness and love. There are funny bits, too. It’s sad, but the reason Guantanamo Boy can only be bought by e-book, is because no American publisher would put it out. It has so far been nominated for ten awards and received high praise in the British and European press, not because it points a finger but because it tells the truth in a captivating story. ‘There’s your truth – there’s my truth and then there’s THE truth.’ Let’s not attempt to dilute it, otherwise the world will never change and the use of torture will continue forever more. I look forward to reading Gringolandia. Sounds riveting."

    Anna Perera

  10. Yes, re: what Anna Perera said about no publishers being willing to publish it, that was kind of what I was asking in my comment when I asked if the reason it was only available on Amazon was publisher's choice or subject matter. It is unfortunate to still see some censorship of books like that, but ultimately publishers get to decide if they want to publish or not and sometimes politics come in to it.

  11. MissAttitude says

    Great reviews April! I like the new layout 🙂

    The comments were very interesting, especially learningthat no U.S. publisher would publish Guantanmo Boy (I've never read it). I really liked Gringolandia and I'm thrilled it's moving on!

    I didn't even think about not liking some of Courtney's actions because she was a girl, I think I probably would have thought she was brave for going down to Chile but I still would have been ticked off by her oblivious attitude towards the suffering Daniel and his family were going through once Daniel's father got back.

  12. Just stopping by again because Lynn advised me that something was happening in the comments. It's very interesting to learn that no US publisher would put 'Guantanamo Boy' out (it's available in paper copy on by the way), especialy as it was nominated for the prestigous Costa award recently.

    We had a bit of a chat about whether it should go into the shortlist because it might be hard for people to obtain, being a UK novel (and most of our judges and organisers are US based)but when we found it on Book Depository we decided anyone should be able to get it. But what a shame it would have been if we'd had to pull it for practicality issues, which had been created by a lack of gumption from American publishers.

    I am sick of all the justifications slapped down by people like Montgomery, because they make no sense, they distort the truth and they betray no kindness. Good on you Ana for making sure the truth gets out there in an accessible format. It sounds like the story will resonate with many British people as several communities saw people incarcerated in Guantanamo without trial only to be released after it was determined they posed no threat (Tipton for example).

    I'd also direct anyone who thinks that Guantanamo has passed into history to this article that asks what Obama (as much as we may all like him) is really doing about decommissioning the prison:

  13. Lyn Miller-Lachmann says

    This isn't the first time a mainstream published children's book in the UK had trouble finding a US publisher for political reasons. Elizabeth Laird is a popular and prolific author, but her novel A Little Piece of Ground, co-authored with Sonia Nimr and published by Macmillan in the UK, ended up small press published in the US after the major publishers turned it down. The middle grade novel, which portrays a Palestinian boy living under Israeli occupation, is available in the US through the progressive publisher Haymarket Books.

    My novel, Gringolandia, was also small press published, but it had only been rejected by one agent and one mainstream publisher when Curbstone Press, the publisher of my adult novel, made an offer. I hope the novel's success will convince mainstream US publishers to take a chance on books that take risks and challenge the conventional political wisdom, including, in Gringolandia's case, the US's role in installing and supporting despotic governments.

  14. valentina says

    I'm looking forward to reading both. I don't think I would mind the message being too loud in Guantanamo Boy.That's what I'd expect from this kind of book. Unfortunately it seems this kind of message is never too loud for some people. I agree you can't keep peace by force, and that Guantanamo methods are wrong, and also that some stories need to be told over and over again to educate and inform. It's especially great that these two books are written for young adults, although it's sad to know that they might be hard for US kids to find.