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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

War Brothers: The Graphic Novel. Written by Sharon McKay and art by Daniel Lafrance. Annick Press, 2013. $18.95 ages 12 and up

"There was a routine to our days. Not once had we woken up in the morning and gone to sleep at night in the same place. Scouts led the way through the bush. They were small boys who were well fed and ran fast. Some were paces ahead, some hours ahead. Everyone had a designated job. Norman, Paul and I were slaves,  like most of the schoolboys."

I read Sharon McKay's original novel in 2009 and many scenes remain strong in my memory. This graphic novel version, with art by Daniel Lafrance, will bring this harrowing story to a new group of readers. It remains hard to contemplate the journey taken by the young schoolboys, abducted from a private school considered safe from the violence that gripped Uganda. The visual representation of their terrifying journey as new recruits for Joseph Kony's LRA is dark, brutal and filled with unforgettable images.

Jacob is returning to school in Gulu when the story begins. His arrival is greeted with new precautionary measures meant to ensure safety. Armed guards patrol the school grounds. New locks secure the doors. Jacob is reassuring when speaking with his his friend Tony. Things do not go as planned and soon the boys are marching with Kony's army through dense jungle, exhausted, hungry and constantly terrorized by those in charge. Will they be forced to act as child soldiers? Will they be able to survive? What might they be forced to do as time passes and their worth to Kony diminishes?

Jacob tells his story personally to help him deal with the realities of the abduction, the forced march, the demands made of children to work for Kony and his enforcers. He needs to come to terms with what he has done in order to heal from the ordeal. His voice is realistic and heartbreaking, sharing the agony of actions taken and their eventual escape to freedom.

Sharon McKay did her research to create these characters, the terror they feel, the anguish of the march and the dreadful conditions they face daily. She spoke with former child soldiers to help her understand their plight and their experiences so that she could share them so realistically with her readers. The artist moves readers from the relative safety of home and school to the panic of the march and the fear of the unknown.  It is powerful historical fiction. It is an important story to tell, and this team has done so admirably.

Here's a video that just came to my attention: (August 24, 2013)

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