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The first regiment that successfully breaks free from the LRA.
Age fourteen. A boy of mixed Afro-Arab and Arab-Berber ancestry. At the start of the novel, his parents are killed by the LRA, his brother Kalid taken hostage. Matteo snaps himself out of his grief and hatches a plan to get himself similarly captured by the LRA, thus finding Kalid and smuggling him to safety.Army life turns out to be nothing like he had expected. To begin with, the LRA wants a completely Christian Africa; this means that Matteo is forced to kill his fellow Muslims while hiding that he himself is a Muslim, constantly in fear of his own life and in torment over the horrors he commits. As he comes to befriend the boys working alongside him, he realizes that none of them are in the LRA by choice. His desire to save his little brother evolves into a desire to save all the child soldiers. No easy feat when there are thirty thousand of them scattered across the eastern continent.
Actual Pacifist: He steadily develops the belief that murder is never justified and spends most of the novel exploiting crafty ways to free his friends without having to harm the men who hold them captive.
Technical Pacifist: Confronted with the man largely responsible for Ruth's captivity and rape, he kills that man in a moment of blind rage. He feels worse after the encounter instead of better, but although he still feels that murder is unforgivable, he realizes he's willing to do it if it means keeping his friends safe.
Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Matteo has a special relationship with his mother that winds up saving his hide in unexpected ways. On a similar note, he can be a brat to other kids his age, but he's very polite to his elders. Except Luo.
Hot-Blooded: Reckless, impulsive, and short-tempered, it's hard to imagine that he thought he was the most mature kid in his village.
Idiot Hero: Matteo is some kind of unusual deconstruction of one of these. He's actually pretty smart—when he has time to think and plan, it almost always works out exactly as he wants it to—but when there's a reason to make a snap decision, his better judgment flies straight out the window. In one such instance, he winds up as one big walking first degree burn. And deaf-mute. He is constantly defying Lieutenant Luo, too, even though he knows he shouldn't.
In-Series Nickname: Kalid, Eliza, Jeremiah, and Marunde all call him Teo. Though the narration consistently refers to him as "Matteo," the only time he uses his own name, he shortens it to Teo as well.
"I spent a lot of time not really caring about people. Especially people my age. I always passed my classmates off as immature. Did I think I had the right? Now I realize that they're supposed to be immature. As children, that's their right. The children here are not children. And nobody had the right to take that away."
Feminine Women Can Cook: Invoked. The LRA is extremely sexist and leaves the fighting to the boys and the domestic responsibilities to the girls. Ruth and the other girls are mostly cooks, gardeners, and porters until Ruth convinces the general, a superstitiously religious man, that the women should fight in the name of God too. (Of course, this is just a ploy to get the girls and the boys more time together, so they can better coordinate their escape.)
Age sixteen and Matteo's squad leader. A Somalian boy who, along with his older sister, was captured by the LRA when he and his family were on the Kenyan border. He and his sister immediately tried to escape the army; his sister was shot to death while he merely walked away with a severely mutilated face. Six years later, he is cold, dry, and unemotional and refuses to step out of line.
The Ace / Broken Ace: He has picked up a tremendous amount of useful knowledge from his military service, to say nothing of the random trivia he spouts when he's...uncomfortable.
Body Horror: The whole right side of his face is gashed, he's missing parts of his nose and mouth, his eye droops, and his face is fixed in a permanent scowl. He's so scary looking, he manages to shut up Matteo when they first meet. AndEliza.
Age twelve. An Acholi boy who has been in the Lord's Resistance Army for four years. His parents, impoverished, were struggling to feed all four of their children, so he quietly ran away one night to make their task a little easier, determining that either the LRA would find him, or death would. He did this when he was eight.
The Conscience: He considers his role as a soldier to be a merciful one; the people he kills die quickly and relatively painlessly, whereas the adult soldiers would only prolong their suffering. He also has a staunch and humorous aversion to theft.
Age seven, and a very angry little boy. Born to a female captive of the LRA, he has never known life outside of the army. Nor has he ever known kindness. Largely ignored by the adults unless it's time to go fight, he was never taught the simplest of concepts, such as the permanence of death.
Age fifteen. A classmate of Matteo's, he's accidentally captured by the LRA when he tries to stop Matteo from joining the army. He initially protests his presence in the LRA, but after participating in his first battle, he becomes enticed by what he perceives as his newfound power. Insouciant, irreverent, and insensitive, he has a hard time figuring out when to be serious.
Age seventeen and a squad leader like Asher. The oldest of the "veterans," he has been with the LRA since he was eleven and is slated to join the ranks of the adult officers very soon. A direct Foil to Auley, the promise of power doesn't entice him at all, and he is indifferent to his horrible life until Matteo shows him that it's possible to escape.
Age twelve. A boy in Marunde's squad, he's been with the LRA for one year and considers Marunde his best friend. Originally from DR Congo, he pretends to be psychic and has predicted that he will grow up to be a poet. A Foil for Otto.
Bilingual Bonus: The only time his age is revealed is when he and Nyumba are having a conversation in French.
A weary, jaded, ill-tempered woman in her twenties. Originally from the Maghreb, her family emigrated to East Africa when she was a small girl. The LRA kidnapped her when she was six. She is the oldest woman in the regiment, having spent her entire life with the army, and the least motivated to rebel.
An adult officer in the LRA. Matteo's squad answers directly to him. A very bitter young man, he has been with the LRA since he was nine. He has no qualms about beating his young charges whenever they step out of line.
Pet the Dog: He tried to get medicine for Kalid when Kalid was first taken to Masindi.
Punch Clock Villain: Part of Matteo's development involves the realization that Luo is not evil, but the product of his horrible environment, simply behaving the way he was taught to behave since he was a child.
A regiment stationed north of Gulu. Matteo and his friends infiltrate their ranks while looking for Matteo's little brother. On an unspoken agreement, none of the children in this regiment go by their real names, and each squad has its own naming convention (colors, adjectives, types of food, etc).
Age thirteen. A brusque, burly girl who serves as the leader of her squad.
Age eleven. A girl in Jade's squad. She's originally from DR Congo.
Ambiguous Gender: Matteo mentions that she could pass for a boy, probably because she hasn't hit puberty yet.
Except for Matteo's best guess, which seems to be based off of Nyumba's friendship with Jade, there's literally no proof that Nyumba is a girl. No one but Matteo ever refers to Nyumba as "he" or "she."
Matteo's nine-year-old brother. At the very start of the novel, he's sick with a fever and can't make the overnight walk to Luwero with his older brother. It's his disappearance that prompts Matteo to go looking for the LRA.
A girl in Matteo's class. Her father and Matteo's worked together as salt miners. Her mother was a soldier with the UPDF and died trying to end the civil war. She disappears fairly quickly after the start of the story, but becomes important again later on.
Tomboy and Girly Girl: With Ruth. An inversion: Eliza's wardrobe is nothing but gomesi (long, floor-length dresses) and she has never seen combat, but she is the boisterous tomboy to Ruth's girly girl.
The village's school teacher. She's originally from West Africa.
Hot Teacher: If Matteo's classmates are to be believed.
A soldier with the UPDF. He has been trying for a long time to put a stop to the LRA, but his efforts are losing political support. When he meets Matteo's friends in Lira, he immediately joins their cause.