Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin

cover image

Ill. by Giovanni Rigano. Hodder Children's Books, 2017. ISBN 9781444934007
(Age: 11+) Recommended. Themes: Refugees; Conflict; Freedom; Survival. The flight to freedom is not easy for many in our world. This Graphic novel illustrated in colour, clearly shows the journey of survival of Ebo, a school-aged child with a beautiful voice, who leaves his home village where he lives with his drunken uncle, to find his siblings - one of whom has made the long journey to Europe. With time shifts indicating the passage of time, forward and back, we see the incredible difficulty he faces. First, he struggles to find his brother, and then he becomes an illegal boat traveller as he travels through very uncertain waters to reach Europe. The entire journey is fraught with difficulty and risk, and the young boy faces death on many occasions. Throughout this book, the reader is able to connect to the concept, highlighted in the quote at the beginning of the book, that no human can be 'illegal'. Ebo is a survivor, but the book highlights that the journey to freedom for many people who flee poverty, war or other conflict is not always successful - and yet they too are humans with the same desire to live well, and to live in safety.
The style of presentation as a graphic novel will provide opportunity for many younger readers to grapple with the serious issues that the world faces in meeting the needs of people who have no official documents to travel. This is an epic story of hope and survival, but it is also a sad story. An additional short, black and white graphic tale of a young woman's journey to England is included at the end of Ebo's story.
Illegal does not shy away from hard issues or circumstances - people smugglers, violence, bandits, murderers, but the format of the graphic novel does make it possible for a younger reader to understand without too much detail given.
Carolyn Hull