War brothers: The graphic novel by Sharon E. McKay
Adapted and ill. by Daniel LaFrance. Walker Books, 2014. ISBN
(Age: 15+) In Uganda a group calling itself the 'Lord's Resistance Army' (LRA) has been operating since 1987 violently oppressing and killing villagers, using abducted child soldiers to carry out unthinkable crimes against humanity. This graphic adaptation of McKay's award winning novel is based on accounts by child soldiers and tells the story from the children's point of view. It is confronting in its depiction of their treatment and brutalisation.
Fourteen year old Jacob and his friend Tony are taken from their school and dragged into the jungle where they become slaves for the LRA soldiers, surviving on what they can find as only soldiers were allowed food and drink. They cling to the hope of rescue and tell each other stories of better times as they become weaker and more desperate. They are befriended by the cook Oteka and meet Hannah, a girl slave whose ears have been cut off and whose story of loss and betrayal is chilling. Starving and exhausted without hope, some succumb and qualify as soldiers, joining the killing but Jacob and some friends, with the help of Oteka, escape. Hunted by soldiers and a lion, they manage to get away but rather than a welcome they are treated with suspicion and fear by people who have suffered at the hands of child soldiers. They draw strength from each other in their shared suffering, finding different ways of dealing with the experience; Jacob's way is to write their story so others might understand.
The illustrations powerfully evoke the horror of the LRA, using dark colours with black backgrounds while the other parts of the story are contrasted in natural colours with white borders. The combination of pictures and text captures the emotions and horror of the situation and the importance of friendship, courage and resilience for survival.
Not suitable for younger readers but this powerful and confronting story could lead to better understanding by year 10 and older students of the issue of children caught up in brutal wars. It is endorsed by Amnesty International as 'contributing to a better understanding of human rights and the values that underpin them'.