Thursday, April 18, 2013

Book Review - War Brothers

War Brothers: The Graphic NovelWar Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon E. McKay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

War Brothers is the kind of graphic novel that makes me want to go out and grab the original. I need to know if that book rips at the emotions the way this one did. The book takes us into history and politics and everyday life in Uganda, Africa. In so doing, it shows that life, and human nature, are the same all around the world. Especially the bonds of friendship.

Jacob just wants to be a kid. He excels in mathematics (he and his friends can do calculations in his head that I have trouble with on a calculator). He has a scholarship to attend a special school, one designed to train future leaders. He and his friend Tony arrive filled with hopes for the future. But the local warlord needs recruits, and kids make good cannon fodder. Not even the special guards hired by the parents stop The LRA (Lord's Resistance Army) soldiers from raiding the school and abducting students. From then on, Jacob’s main job becomes survival as he waits for his father to rescue him. Meanwhile, the soldiers begin the process of turning the boys into killers.

The book pulls few punches. Readers’ hearts pound as a frightened boy is told to choose between short-sleeves or long: being amputated at the wrist, or above the elbow. We watch female captives, one maimed for trying to escape, others forced to be the “wives” of soldiers and bear babies while they themselves are still children. The boys are told that if they even speak to one of the girls they will be beaten…and the girl will be killed. The graphics are excellent and enhance the story. We see and feel the shock and fear, the grief as friends die or agree to become killers in exchange for food and shelter. We feel the fatigue and the jungle heat. Watch as adults turn children into brutes.
“The commanders can tell which boys can be broken like glass. Shattered glass cannot be put back together. When the good boys become LRA they become especially mean, especially dangerous.”
Jacob witnesses atrocities committed in the name of God; watches his friend Tony, the boy who once wanted to become a priest, become a gun-toting convert after being forced to kill another child. He believes his father will rescue him, rejects the religious zeal of his captors and does everything he can to keep a frail boy alive during weeks spent trekking through the African jungle. Jacob’s hopes sink when he learns the government refuses to make a deal to get the schoolboys back. If he is going to survive, he has to make that happen, even if it means agreeing to join the soldiers on a raid. The rules are simple: only those who fight and kill get food. Jacob is handed a panga (machete) and told to kill the enemy. An enemy who turns out to be a mother struggling to protect her screaming child.

Five boys, including Jacob and Tony, and one girl manage to escape. When they return from the jungle they are looked on with fear. Some parents refuse to take their children back.
“People watched us. They thought we were killers with a thirst to kill again.”
When a boy who has been handed a weapon and taught to take life turns around and saves a life, does he earn absolution? Can he be trusted or forgiven? Even by himself? The book asks the questions. It does not hand out easy answers.

This book is justifiably labeled 9th grade and up. The brutality begins on the opening panels. We see children armed with guns and machetes attacking a mother trying to defend her own child. It makes an effective hook, I had to keep reading when I turned a page and the book went into the past, to scenes of tranquility in Uganda before the boys became pawns in a war. This makes an ideal “gateway book” for High School youth who might be considered reluctant readers. By that I mean the book has a sound hook for older high school students. I admit to reading frantically to see what would happen next. I visualize many reluctant readers doing the same.

War Brothers does a good job of depicting the universality of family life, friendship, the dreams of the young, and how those dreams can be ripped apart by the irrationality of war. Teachers, parents and librarians can use this story to evoke discussions of combat situations in the present and the past, street wars, and other areas relevant to young readers’ lives and futures.

View all my reviews

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What's up i am kavin, its my first occasion to commenting anywhere, when i read this article i thought i could also make comment due to this brilliant article.

My weblog ... summer internship