A MUST READ.*I won an ARC of this book in a Goodreads giveaway. Intense, heart-breaking and hopeful, this little book delivers a realistic punch and is unputdownable. The story of two teens being held hostage along with a roomful of frightened first graders takes an honest look at the far reaching effects of war and the damage PTSD can do. It also shows how forgiveness and the willing to sacrifice oneself can provide hope even in the most dire situations. Told from alternating POV's, McDowell manages to capture all the emotions of a life-threatening situation, fear, panic and anxiety and infuses it with humor that only a child can lend. Emery and Jake are both familiar with loss but nothing in their pasts, either separate or shared, could've prepared them for Brian Stutts. Having returned home a changed and damaged man, his character evokes feelings of pure disgust and gut-wrenching sadness. The thought that our government frowns upon those who need help as a result of doing their job, is deplorable. "We" send them over there and "we" need to take care of them when they return without judgment or bias.The situation Emery and Jake find themselves in, forces them to deal with their own issues while allowing them to learn a few life lessons. Both are strong characters despite being flawed and both are eager to do whatever necessary to protect the kids, even if it means risking their own lives. They're no doubt forever changed by this experience and discovering what matters most could be the biggest lesson of all.