Chalkline by Jane Mitchell

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Chalkline by Jane Mitchell

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Powerful story of a child soldier in Kashmir. It's beautifully written with great accuracy, doesn't flinch from its subject, but maintains a deeply affecting humanity. Jane Mitchell was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: June 2009
Publisher: Walker
ISBN: 1406315176

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Rafiq is living a quiet and fairly uneventful existence in his remote Kashmiri village. He's close to his younger sister Jameela and he's helping her learn to read - despite his father's mild disapproval. For what reason would a girl need to read? Otherwise, he goes to school and studies and plays ball games with his friends; just what boys do all day all across the world. Rafiq is tall for his age and strong, and he's an obedient child who listens to to his father and tries to live up to his high standards.

And then the militants come. They take Rafiq and other village boys and spirit them away high up into the mountains and a training camp. And Rafiq's life changes for good. He's taught to shoot, to set mines, and he's indoctrinated with the nationalist fervour of the Kashmiri separatists. And eventually he's sent on terrorist missions. Back at home, life goes on much as it ever did, but the grief of Rafiq's loss weighs like a stone in the hearts of Jameela and her mother.

It's a fine line between boy and soldier and Jane Mitchell treads it well in this tremendously powerful book. Thousands of children are abducted by militias all across the world every year. They're beaten, bullied, trained and brainwashed, and they are turned into killing machines whose lives are cheap. You can't write a book about it without exploring the horror, and, laudably, Mitchell doesn't shrink from any of it. There is a particularly distressing scene in which one boy is stoned to death and it will shock. But these are boys, and Mitchell never loses sight of that either.

We see things through the eyes of Rafiq and Jameela. Rafiq spends the first part of his abduction paralysed by shock and doing whatever he can to survive and to maintain some dignity. Gradually, he transfers his loyalties from parents to captors, simply because he is a child and he can't survive without an authority figure. It's horribly sad but Mitchell makes it plain just how inevitable it is. Jameela and her mother provide the grounding to which the reader clings. They're grieving, but they're also showing how important family and routine are to a decent and bearable life.

It's beautifully written in clear and accessible prose and with a wealth of accurate observation and detail. Kashmiri life is vividly portrayed and the background political situation comes through in the detail and dialogue, so the reader isn't put off by lots of exposition. I found Chalkline profoundly moving, and I think its readers will find it even more so. It's one for families to talk about too - child soldiers are a blight upon human civilisation, and things will start to change, if only we can spread awareness and understanding. What better place to start?

My thanks to the nice people at Walker for sending the book.

A child's experience of conflict is explored by Elizabeth Laird in Oranges in No Man's Land. Laird also looks at the abuse of children forced to become camel jockeys in Lost Riders. Message in a Bottle by Valerie Zenatti focuses on teenagers in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Bookinterviews.jpg Jane Mitchell was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.

Buy Chalkline by Jane Mitchell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Chalkline by Jane Mitchell at

Buy Chalkline by Jane Mitchell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Chalkline by Jane Mitchell at


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