War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon E. McKay, illustrated by Daniel LaFrance
This is the graphic novel version of McKay’s teen novel of the same title. Based on interviews with child soldiers, this novel pulls no punches when telling the story of Jacob, a Ugandan boy taken by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) as a soldier. Jacob is a teenager who is headed to a boy’s school. Knowing the danger from Joseph Kony and his LRA, Jacob’s father provides additional armed guards at the school. But it is not enough, Jacob and his friends are taken as child soldiers. That begins a story of brutality, murder, starvation, and survival. But this story is not without hope and resilience and heroism that flies in the face of the desperate and violent situation the boys find themselves in.
McKay warns readers right from the beginning about the violence of the storyline. Through a letter from Jacob, the book warns of the brutality of what happens, ending with “There is no shame in closing this book now.” McKay does not try to lessen that brutality, showing how child soldiers are indoctrinated into the LRA and broken. Jacob struggles with having to commit atrocities himself, despite the food that is promised for him and his friends. One of his friends does become a soldier, well fed and cared for, but with his spirit entirely decimated by what he has done. It is an impossible choice, kill others or die yourself.
LaFrance does an admirable job of showing violence but without adding drama to an already volatile and horrific situation. He does not shy away from showing the brutality, often using close ups and unique lighting to show what happened without becoming too bloody. It is a fine line to walk, demonstrating that this is real and actual, while leaving it powerful enough to speak on its own.
Highly recommended, this is a story that is riveting to read as long as you are brave enough to continue turning the pages. The fact that this is based on true stories of child soldiers adds to the compelling nature of the tale. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from copy received from Annick Press.