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That Mad Game

Kirkus Reviews
“Uplifting tales of survival… War’s most vulnerable victims have their say.”
Seventeen wrenching accounts, most previously unpublished and either personal or based on interviews, from witnesses who as children or teenagers were caught up in wars or internecine violence.
From Marnie Mueller, born of non-Japanese parents in a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II, to three pseudonymous young refugees belonging to the savagely persecuted Chin minority who fled Burma in the mid-2000s, the subjects of these essays range widely in age and background. They have in common inner wounds that persist long after outer ones have healed or, at least, scarred over. Except for Fito Avitia, a resident of Juárez, Mexico, determined to stay put despite his city’s wild tides of crime and violence, displacement runs as a common thread through these narratives. It takes the form of either physical exile or, in the case of Phillip Cole Manor, who writes of his tour in Vietnam and Jerry Mathes’ portrait of his father, who came back from that war with PTSD, profound damage to senses of place and self. Explicit descriptions of atrocities make disturbing reading in some entries, though all are, in the end, uplifting tales of survival that offer a mix of (as the editor puts it) “loss, anger, fear, heartbreak and forgiveness.” A romantic encounter between a Serb and a Croat, and a Kabul youth’s memories of repeated encounters with a smitten “Talib in Love” even add lighter notes.
War’s most vulnerable victims, stepping up to have their say.
- June 20, 2012 
School Library Journal
[R]readers will be rewarded by [this] compelling and often uplifting anthology … That Mad Game surprises with its variety. From Taliban-controlled Kabul to a Japanese internment camp in northern California, from a teen girl’s “soundtrack of war” in Beirut to a young man’s long walk across much of Africa, the startling stories make for rough going at times. But the humor, beauty, and humanity shining through the darkness are what make this collection a must-have for all libraries serving high school students.
These essays, all documenting the effects of war on young people, are not for the faint of heart, but mature readers will be rewarded by a compelling and often uplifting anthology. And while these accounts of survival all share a common thread of finding a place in displacement, That Mad Game surprises with its variety. In the remarkable “Across the River,” Nikolina Kulidzan describes a chance encounter during a visit to her hometown of Mostar, Bosnia. In lovely prose, she shows that contentment, however fleeting, can be found in the former Yugoslavia. Contrast this with the stark “Hand-Me-Down War Stories,” in which Jerry Mathes recounts in harsh detail the ways Vietnam shaped his father: “He became intimate with suffering.” His use of reverse chronological order effectively illustrates his dawning realization of the many ways in which his father’s PTSD affected his family. The diversity seen in these two stories runs through the collection as a whole, and when coupled with the short length of most of the selections, the weighty subject matter is easier to digest. From Taliban-controlled Kabul to a Japanese internment camp in northern California, from a teen girl’s “soundtrack of war” in Beirut to a young man’s long walk across much of Africa, the startling stories make for rough going at times. But the humor, beauty, and humanity shining through the darkness are what make this collection a must-have for all libraries serving high school students.
- Sam Bloom, September 15, 2012 
Bookslut
"Truly a unique title. If we are lucky, we will never know what the contributors to Powers's collection have revealed. We will only have their record to better know what it was like; we will only have their sorrow to help us understand. Highly recommended."
I was lucky enough to have a copy of The Mad Game: Growing Up in a Warzone pressed into my hands a few months ago at ALA Midwinter. This collection of global voices is truly a unique title, a book on war that manages to include multiple ages, perspectives, and conflicts. Editor J.L. Powers has done an amazing job of collecting an array of individual narratives to dive into. Some will resonate more than others, but collectively they provide a powerful example of the lingering impact of war on the lives of children and teenagers. What so impressed me is that the children come from such diverse backgrounds; they are soldiers and civilians, from families who fled war or the children of those who fought in it. In ways big and small, subtle and obvious, their lives have been touched by combat and the message they share is serious stuff: you don't get over this, not completely, not ever. You just learn to live with what you know and somehow not let it destroy you.
In That Mad Game, we meet Phillip Cole Manor, who writes of fighting in Vietnam at the age of eighteen; Qais Akbar Omar, who grew up under the Taliban in Aghanistan; and Alia Yunis, who spent many of her childhood years in Beirut during the civil war. There is also Xiaomei Lucas, who grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution; Innocent Bisanabo, who fled wars across sub-Saharan Africa; and Rebecca Henderson, who recounts the lives of four teenagers forced to flee Burma. There are essays on Iraq, Iran, South Africa, Cambodia, El Salvador, and Bosnia. Every page is another history lesson, every paragraph another stark reminder of the price we pay for losing peace. "In the Middle East, the advent of war is as unpredictable as the rain," writes Yunis. "Each year the rain is needed desperately, but often it doesn't come. However there is never a drought when it comes to war. Every generation has its war or -- quite often -- wars."
It's easy to recommend That Mad Game to classrooms, but I read this book more to understand and empathize than to learn facts. Jerry Mathes writes of growing up with his father, who was away at Vietnam when he was just a baby, and shows how war can permeate a household and taint those who never know its pain firsthand. "...I realized that I lived among war's flotsam: fatigues, dress blues, rank and unit patches, ribbons, brass insignia, medals that hung on a plaque... Some sacred relics I showed my friends and pretended to know the meaning of what stories these things told." For all that he is mired in his father's war, however, Mathes cannot understand it and he cannot understand what became of his father there. "I have often wondered who the young man was in the photo on the beach or the groom in his uniform before he learned the language of war," he writes. And the reader is drawn into that wondering, into questioning who this man might have been if he had not become "intimate with suffering."
There are more than a dozen biographies in That Mad Game, memories shared, emotional scrapbooks revealed and, as in David Griffith's closing essay "Symphony No. 1 (In Memoriam, Dresden, 1945"), questions are asked that can never be answered. If we are lucky, we will never know what the contributors to Powers's collection have revealed. We will only have their record to better know what it was like; we will only have their sorrow to help us understand. Highly recommended.
- Coleen Mondor, March 28, 2013  Visit Website
The Pirate Tree
THAT MAD GAME is a collection of personal essays that can move glaciers. At least they will move the human heart to consider the suffering of those who experience the violence and terror of war … Each essay presents a unique perspective, and each one shares pain but also hope. Even humor.
- Nancy Bo Flood, September 12, 2012  Visit Website
Charles London, author of One Day The Soldiers Came: Voices of Children in War
"There is heartache in the stories J.L. Powers has assembled here, as well as loss and pain and death. They are about war, after all. But there is humor too, and also love and faith and hope, because they are human stories too, and as each one testifies in its own way, humans are able to heal."
Trent Reedy, author of Words in the Dust and Stealing Air
"I was sent to the war in Afghanistan with a lot of slogans in my head about freedom and fighting terrorism. What I found instead was a tremendous respect for the good Afghan people, a deep sympathy for the Afghan children struggling for better lives, and a profound hatred of the Taliban for the way they brutalized their own people. That Mad Game is a reminder that such hatred is the same mistake from which all the world’s wars are born. The fact that That Mad Game can steer my hard heart toward sympathy for a young Talib is a sure sign of this book’s tremendous potential to foster a spirit of peace and understanding in readers everywhere."
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
These essays give readers a front-row seat to the hunger, the hardship, and, ultimately, the resilience of people whose childhoods were forever marked by life on the front lines.
- January 1, 2013 
Viewpoints
"In reading these documents of the inhumanities of war, we open our eyes to the ways brutality is perpetuated upon people and perhaps we become a little more compassionate from this understanding."
- March 18, 2013 

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