Boy Kills Man


In the South American town of Medellín, where drug dealers rule and hope is scarce, young assassins are in large supply. Take Shorty and Alberto: two hardened best friends from poor homes whose biggest dream is to see a live soccer match. These boys understand that the one true power they will ever possess comes in the form of a fully loaded Smith & Wesson. Pulling the trigger may not be a way out . . . but it's the only way to the top.

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In the South American town of Medellín, where drug dealers rule and hope is scarce, young assassins are in large supply. Take Shorty and Alberto: two hardened best friends from poor homes whose biggest dream is to see a live soccer match. These boys understand that the one true power they will ever possess comes in the form of a fully loaded Smith & Wesson. Pulling the trigger may not be a way out . . . but it's the only way to the top.

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Editorial Reviews

To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, March 2005: In Medellin, Colombia, "gangsters rule" and "the gun speaks louder than words." Sonny and his hulking best friend Alberto dream of being soccer stars, but know they must bring in money to help support their fatherless households. They start out at age 10 running cigarettes for a local storekeeper who is connected to a feared local mobster and drug-runner, El Fantasma. When they walk in on a robbery in the store and Alberto saves the storekeeper by beating the robber to death, he is soon given a gun to carry by El Fantasma himself and promoted to assassin--the law won't jail a minor for murder. Sonny is terrified but envious of Alberto's new power, and when Sonny's abusive uncle beats him up and Alberto shoots the man in the foot, Sonny is determined to work for El Fantasma and have a gun too. One day, Alberto goes out on a job and doesn't return; and Sonny realizes that despite the gun, the same fate awaits him, and that he is helpless to change this. This spare and disturbing tale is based on real events, according to the author, and he makes Sonny's impoverished, violent, hopeless world all too real to the reader. The title and the cover, featuring a young man's bare back with a tattoo of angel wings and a gun stuck in the waistband of his jeans, are sure to get attention. KLIATT Codes: JS--Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2005, HarperCollins, 153p., $6.99.. Ages 12 to 18.
—Paula Rohrlick
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Contemporary Medell'n, Colombia, is the setting for this unsettling and largely uncompromising portrayal of the life and death of Sonny, a small 13-year-old boy lost in pursuit of machismo. A grade-school dropout whose life has been twisted by poverty, he watches enviously as his menacing best friend, Alberto, lives large after being recruited by El Fantasma, a drug lord, for what become almost routine assassinations. Sonny's first hit, like Alberto's, is of a bound and gagged victim who is already being tortured, and is critiqued thusly: "You're enthusiastic. I like that in my sicarios. Maybe you were a little generous with the bullets, but the sucker had it coming." Sonny's life had previously been about "music, money, Jesus Christ, and soccer," but by the end of the book, he is caught in his own inevitable death spiral. The climax reveals unexpected depth and resonance from the ironic title. The taut story line subtly illustrates the many levels of personal, social, and political costs of the shocking violence created and perpetuated by the largely U.S.-driven international drug trade. At times the narrative sounds as if it were translated into an odd, if colloquial, English, and it occasionally drags a bit, but on the whole, the book will interest and educate readers about a world they might know nothing of otherwise. While references to smoking grass, drinking, and the violence itself might seem to limit this title to mature teen readers, the presentation makes this awful world accessible to younger readers, as well.-Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Junior High School, Iowa City, IA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Twelve-year-old Sonny and his friend Alberto sell cigarettes on the streets of Medell'n, Colombia, until a run-in with a burglar earns Alberto a "recommendation" to the local boss. Kids make useful assassins since they can't be legally prosecuted, and once drugged, they act without qualm. When Alberto "disappears," Sonny vows to "make the most" of his life "just like Alberto . . . and make my mark." The "telling-it-like-it-is" voice seems intended to be nonjudgmental without glorifying this chillingly real situation; but the canned tough-guy-speak is skin-deep ("The events of that afternoon went down deep for us both. It became part of who we are"), as is the "shocker" ending. With a blurb from Melvin Burgess, many will compare the "unvarnished" tone of this to Burgess's, but don't be fooled. This is all pretense-tragic and horrifying, with none of the context or real characterization to give readers a point of reflection. There are better titles about young people and street violence, including Ineke Holtwijk's Asphalt Angels (1999) and Walter Dean Myers's Monster (1999). Don't subject your readers to this one. (Fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060746650
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/1/2006
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • Age range: 14 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.12 (h) x 0.32 (d)

Meet the Author

Matt Whyman has written books for teenagers and adults, including Man or Mouse, XY, and Superhuman. He is also a popular advice columnist and regularly appears on UK television and radio in this role. Mr. Whyman lives in the south of England with his wife and three daughters.

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Read an Excerpt

Boy Kills Man

By Matt Whyman

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Matt Whyman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060746645

Chapter One

"Believe me, nothing is more unsettling in this world than a kid with a gun." That's what the boss says whenever he introduces me to people. I've never found myself on the wrong side of a piece, not for real. Then again, I suppose you could say I'm the kind of kid people fear.

"An adult is aware of the consequences," he'll continue, so softly you almost have to hold your breath in case you miss something. "He's likely to hesitate before pulling the trigger, or scale down the hit and just scare the sucker instead. A boy doesn't think like that. You give him a job, he'll get it done, no question. Why?" He always pauses here (or pats me on the head if I'm standing right beside him). "Because a boy is aware of the consequences if he doesn't see it through."

My boss has the quietest voice you ever heard. Some say that it sounds like a deathly whisper, which is why he is known as El Fantasma -- The Ghost. It also means that when he speaks, everybody listens. I need a gun in my hand before I can earn the same attention, or some money wrapped up in a band. The first time I told my mother that she no longer needed to go out each night to work, she just blinked at me. It didn't matter how many times I said I could take care of things, my presence in the apartment was all she seemedto take in.

Things changed once she had time to think. Now if I place some cash on the table, Mama clutches her forehead with one hand and blames herself for all kinds of things. If Uncle Jairo is in earshot, then he'll get involved too. My uncle has bad lungs, which is why he's always so frustrated and short-tempered. He reminds her I'm thirteen this year, almost a man. If I'm so smart and wise with words like he's always hearing, then why hadn't she sacrificed everything to keep me off the streets, huh? So shut up for once, he'll spit, and let your son repay us for bringing him up. Sometimes Mama will start wailing, which makes him scream bad things at her before panicking because he's mislaid his inhaler. By then I can't even remember the point she'd been trying to make. El Fantasma wouldn't allow things to get out of hand like that. He always has complete control of any situation, whether he's scolding his guards or telling a funny story. He would make a great coach, I think. Give him eleven men, and within a season he'd shape them up into God's own team.

The boss has always known me as Shorty. It's something I got called one time, and annoyingly it stuck like gum to a shoe. It just doesn't suit any position on the pitch, you know? If Shorty were in goal, you'd simply aim high to get the ball in the back of the net. Place the little guy in defense, or midfield, it would be a question of using your legs to outrun him. I suppose it doesn't sound so bad for an attacking player, but not as proud and formidable as Sonny, my real name. A memorable striker needs no surname, and Sonny just says it all.

. . . the ball swings up to Sonny, and the crowd are on their feet! The whole of Medellin are behind him. He's passed one, two, and he shoots. . . .

It was Papa who named me, two months before I was born. I'm told he was utterly convinced that he would have a son. My mother claims he even described how I would look as I grew up. According to her, he hasn't been wrong so far. If this is true, he must also have been aware that he would never see his predictions made flesh. All I know for sure is that Papa had to leave home in a hurry, though nobody ever explained why. It could've been the cops were after him, or maybe the cartel. I've learned not to ask anymore. It just makes people angry -- or sad. Either way, it must have taken a lot of courage, saying good-bye to his wife and unborn child. Only a brave man could make that kind of sacrifice. I just hope he foresaw that I would inherit his great courage.

. . . Gooooaaaallllll!!!!!!

El Fantasma shares my passion for soccer as well as for Nacional. I heard he is on personal terms with the trainer there, and has a seat in a bulletproof box. The boss can handle a ball, too, even if he is a little chubby in the face and waist. He likes to play with one touch, just like our national side. Some say it's an arrogant style, but if the team plays as one, it can be deadly.

"Always keep the ball moving," he tells me. "You can't afford to give the opposition time to react. If the dust has settled and you still have possession, you're in trouble."

Alberto played a very different style. If my best friend won the ball, which he often did without waiting for a pass, you could be sure he wouldn't give it up. Instead, he would thunder for the box, and nobody dared get in his way. Players sometimes stepped aside for him, just as they did for El Fantasma, but this was because Alberto was built like a bull. I used to think he charged in all the time because he was too ashamed to call out for the ball. You would expect a kid our age to squeak a bit, but Alberto had it bad. For a boy who looked like he should growl and grumble, it could come as quite a shock.

"So what if my huevas haven't dropped yet?" he once piped up. "What matters is they're made of steel!"


Excerpted from Boy Kills Man by Matt Whyman Copyright © 2006 by Matt Whyman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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