CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 1. . . .September 6, 2013
War Brothers: The Graphic Novel.
Sharon E. McKay and Daniel Lafrance. Illustrated by Daniel Lafrance.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2013.
176 pp., pbk. & hc., $14.95 (pbk.), $24.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-488-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-489-2 (hc.).
Child soldiers-Uganda-Comic books, strips, etc.
Child soldiers-Uganda-Juvenile fiction.
Kidnapping victims-Uganda-Comic books, strips, etc.
Kidnapping victims-Uganda-Juvenile fiction.
Friendship-Comic books, strips, etc.
Grades 8-11 / Ages 13-16.
Review by Chris Laurie.
“…and yesterday, the World Court in The Hague charged Joseph Kony with twenty counts of human rights violations and will prosecute him when captured…”
“Where is this world court? Does this mean people know about us?”
“Also, we have a message for the students of the George Jones Seminary for Boys… Our prayers are with you.”
“Haha Hahaha Haha”
“You see? They are not coming for us. We are the enemy now.”
“That’s not true, Tony...”
“You think that you can go home? You cannot… None of us can go home ever again! We have sin in us now. Evil spirits!”
Fourteen-year-old Jacob and his friends are just starting school at George Jones Seminary for Boys. They are awoken during the night by a violent invasion by the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Founded in 1987 by Joseph Kony, this pseudo-Christian group has led an ongoing rebellion against the Ugandan government. The boys are captured and led through the jungle, beaten and starved in order to weaken their resistance, and constantly on the move to evade government forces. They are told they will only be given food if they prove their loyalty by killing. Jacob clings to the hope that rescue is imminent, that his father and the government will rescue the boys soon.
They soon discover that there are females in the entourage as well – ‘wives’ of soldiers, and servants. Jacob’s is horrified when he meets a young girl named Hannah; her ears have been sliced off as an example of what will happen to those attempting to escape.
Jacob and his friends, Tony, Paul, and Norman, keep each other’s hopes up with their shared talents at solving math puzzles and listening to Paul’s amazing stories about his father’s trip to America. These provide somewhat of a balance to the violence the boys experience. In early, shocking scenes, Tony is forced to kill an injured boy or have is own arm cut off. In another, Jacob is ordered to kill innocent civilians in an ambush.
In a pivotal scene, a radio announcement informs the group that the Ugandan government has refused to provide arms in exchange for the safe return of the schoolchildren, the only reason the boys had been kept alive. The soldiers tell the boys that it would be of no use to attempt escape; that if they went home they would not be believed, that they would always be looked upon with doubt and suspicion.
That night, Jacob, classmates Paul and Norman, ex-LRA soldier Oteka and Hannah escape into the night… Will the children survive in the jungle alone, evading both natural predators and the LRA soldiers? Even if they make it home, will they be accepted back as children, or will they be seen as LRA soldiers and killers?
Montreal-born Sharon McKay’s novel, War Brothers, winner of a 2009 Arthur Ellis award, has successfully been adapted into graphic novel form. Daniel Lafrance’s striking artwork vividly brings the reader face to face with the children who are forced to participate in a brutal war they know little about. Lafrance switches from white to black borders between panels, as well as from a realistic style prior to the children’s capture, to a more stylized, ominous one during the boys’ captivity and escape.
Sharon McKay is a bestselling, award-winning author. Her books include Enemy Territory and Thunder Over Kandahar. She divides her time between Charlottetown, PE, and Toronto, ON. McKay spent time with child soldiers and based this story on real-life accounts.
Daniel Lafrance is a storyboard and graphic novel artist and has worked as an artist in the film industry for many years. He lives in Toronto. This is his first graphic novel.
For those unfamiliar with the geography of the region in which the story occurs, McKay provides a helpful map which precedes the novel.
War Brothers is a truly important work both in the original version and in this graphic novel version.
Chris Laurie is an Outreach Librarian at Winnipeg Public Library.
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