June 01, 2013

War Brothers: The Graphic Novel

by Sharon E. McKay
Illustrated by Daniel LaFrance
Annick Press
176 pp.
Ages 14+
February 2013

My story is not an easy one to read.  The life of a child soldier is full of unthinkable violence and brutal death. . . .There is no shame in closing this book now. ~ Kitino Jacob

With his opening letter, Jacob, the narrator of this story, prepares the reader for the horror that begins with his abduction by the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda at the age of fourteen. 

Taken in the night with all the boys at his boarding school and marched continuously day after day, night after night, Jacob believes that rescue is imminent, that his father and the government will rescue the boys soon.  Meanwhile, though, they are "instructed" in the ways of the Lord's Resistance Army that purports to serve God and uphold Christian beliefs, aiming its actions against the evil government.  This is especially problematic for these boys who come from a seminary school, where they receive religious instruction.  In fact, Tony, one of Jacob's friends, may have considered becoming a priest.  But, when Tony is threatened, shamed and brutalized into beating an injured boy to death, he begins to see the horror in himself while the LRA sees him as a soldier, worthy of food and water.  Those who have yet to prove themselves as soldiers continue to do without, snatching whatever they may find, edible or not, along their travels.

When they learn that Joseph Kony, the infamous leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, has been trying to negotiate with the government for guns and other arms in exchange for the boys' release,  Jacob and his friends may feel they have some degree of safety.  But they still must endure the mistreatment and strict "decrees" of the LRA, never knowing when one of them may become the victim of a cruel commanding soldier, such as Lizard who seems to target Jacob regularly. From Tony to Hannah, the serving girl who has had both her ears removed, to new children abducted by the LRA, Jacob can see how the LRA manipulates with fear and twisted reasoning, but he holds tight the premise that his small group of friends are his war brothers and he will act as needed to save them, even when he feels abandoned, by God, his father and the government. 

Winner of the 2009 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Juvenile Crime Novel, Sharon E. McKay's novel War Brothers (Puffin, 2008) is a gritty read, graphic in its story premise, in its details, in its reality.  Sadly, it's a story that is easily adapted to the graphic novel format, especially when illustrated so capably by Daniel LaFrance.  But be prepared for the darkness - there are few moments of lightness, except at the beginning before Jacob's abduction and somewhat at the book's conclusion.  And Daniel LaFrance's illustrations successfully instill that atmosphere.  Sharon E. McKay has wrapped the details of Jacob's abduction and life as a child soldier in the innocence of a young boy with a reasonable hope for a "normal" life, until the LRA hijack it away from him.  There is no happy ending but one that may satisfy somewhat, knowing that Jacob escapes.  But, Sharon E. McKay and Daniel LaFrance make it clear that there may never be a resolution to the horror of the LRA as long as there are those who've been transformed, even temporarily, from victim to criminal.

While I can encourage the reading of War Brothers: The Graphic Novel, I cannot share with you the intimacy of the story as experienced by Sharon E. McKay.  However, a recently uploaded video from Annick Press has Sharon E. McKay and Daniel LaFrance discussing adapting the book to graphic novel format.  The link to AnnickPress' trailer called Sharon McKay and Daniel LaFrance discuss "War Brothers"can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFrfJ5NaQX4.  Be sure to get this different perspective.

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