Book Review – Rebels of the Kasbah by Joe O’Neill
The artful cover stood out amidst oodles of books crowding a Powell’s Bookstore shelf. As I reached to pick one up, I noticed a handmade sign heralding praises for this new release of an adventure story set in 1912 Morocco. That was a world I had never explored in literature before, so I decided to take a chance on this new author, Joe O’Neill. I was not disappointed.
Rebels of the Kasbah follows four friends brought together by horrible circumstances. Tariq, Fez, Aseem, and Margaret are sold into slavery to Caid Ali Tamzali. The boys are purchased to be camel jockeys, racing for the amusement of the Caid and his guests, while Margaret is sent to the kasbah’s harem. These friends pledge to care for one another and find a way to escape their dire situation. Through a series of interspersed flashback chapters, we learn about each character and their life up until the point at which they all came to know one another. This includes learning about the four kidnapped friends, as well as their captors, and supporting characters.
Rebels is Joe O’Neill’s first book and what a debut it is! This book appeals to all readers, but particularly draws in those who love adventure. With a feel reminiscent of “classic” adventure stories, the chapters have marvelous cliffhangers that leave the reader breathless with exhilaration and desperate to know what happens next. This is not to say the reader does not feel satisfied with each chapter – the desire to know more comes from a deep care and concern for the characters involved, as well as the pace of the story carefully constructed by O’Neill.
Joe O’Neill is an adventurer himself, having traveled all over the world and he brings an adult world to a younger audience. This book tackles human trafficking in a way that allows middle and high school readers to see the gravity of the situation without becoming overwhelmed by excessive violence and brutality. O’Neill neither sugarcoats the situation, nor is overtly violent, but rather allows middle readers a glimpse into a form of human trafficking that is often overlooked in schools. His honesty and treatment of the topics addressed are deeply respected by the middle school students I know who have read his story.
This book, which kicks off the Red Hand Adventure Series, is near and dear to my heart as Joe O’Neill is someone I have met and correspond with. Joe approached me via the website Goodreads about an advanced reader copy of the third installment, Legends of the Rif. Since connecting on this book review site, he has visited my middle school classroom and promises to visit again soon. To know the man who has created this world, as well as to love the adventure he provides, means this book is one of my all-time favorite stories and I highly recommend this book to adventure-lovers of all ages.