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War Brothers: The Graphic Novel

War Brothers: The Graphic Novel

4.5 2
by Sharon E. McKay, Daniel Lafrance (Illustrator)

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The unforgettable story of a child soldier. When fourteen-year-old Jacob is brutally abducted and forced to become a child soldier, he struggles to hold on to his sanity and the will to escape. Daniel Lafrance’s striking artwork and the poignant, powerful text capture the very essence of life as a child soldier. Readers will never forget the experiences of


The unforgettable story of a child soldier. When fourteen-year-old Jacob is brutally abducted and forced to become a child soldier, he struggles to hold on to his sanity and the will to escape. Daniel Lafrance’s striking artwork and the poignant, powerful text capture the very essence of life as a child soldier. Readers will never forget the experiences of this young boy struggling to survive, unsure who to trust, afraid of succumbing to madness, and above all, desperate to get to freedom. In the end, Jacob engineers a daring escape. This graphic novel is based on the acclaimed novel of the same title, winner of a 2009 Arthur Ellis award. The author spent time in Uganda and based this story on real-life accounts of the horrors inflicted on child soldiers and their victims. This is a story of unthinkable violence, but also one of hope, courage, friendship, and family.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Hazel Buys
Varied experiences of children kidnapped by renegade soldiers in Uganda and forced to kill or die themselves are blended into one narrative about a fourteen year old boy, Jacob, who survives to return home. He is changed, of course. The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is "cruel beyond measure." Forced marches, starvation, and beatings to the point of death are routine. Disoriented as to their location, hidden in the deep jungle, escape appears impossible to the children. Brutalized and reduced to using any means to survive, many of the boys become killers themselves: only the soldiers eat. McKay has assembled a series of vignettes that seamlessly depict the shock and horror of the kidnapping and the children's desperation in the midst of extreme cruelty and hardship. But the power of kinship combined with hope fuel Jacob's refusal to submit to the dark world of the rebels. Aided by an older soldier, Jacob helps his war brothers and sister escape to the safety of a rehabilitation center and then home. Lafrance's drawings use bold strokes and muted colors to depict the harshness of the interior landscape of the captives even when the jungle around them is green and lush. Contrasting red adds violence instead of brightness. McKay and Lafrance have written and designed an important graphic novel that reports devastating events that continue today, not just in Africa, but around the world. Their book would be a good addition to a high school class or library resource on world politics, especially that of third world countries. Reviewer: Hazel Buys
VOYA - Cassandra Rondinella
The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is a rebel army created in Uganda by a man named Kony. Members of this army are children who have been kidnapped by the officers of the LRA against their will. They are forced to kill in order to survive; survive the beatings, abuse and starvation. Jacob is a student at the George Jones Seminary for Boys. After being sent back to school and meeting up with his friends, their dorm room is broken into and all of the boys are kidnapped by the LRA. Jacob is knocked unconscious and when he awakes, he finds himself in the jungle with the choice to kill or be killed. After watching one of his friends be brutally murdered, he and his friends are determined to escape at any cost. With the help of Hannah and Oteka, two other captured children they meet along the way, all five manage to escape and return home. This story is based on actual events and is told in graphic novel format presenting a unique view of the situation in Uganda. Although the actual events are gruesome in real life, the depiction of events is tastefully done so that students in younger grades are able to comprehend the severity of the events taking place in Africa. Although students would probably not pick this book up on their own and will need prompting, it is a great resource to have in any library collection. Reviewer: Cassandra Rondinella
Kirkus Reviews
A graphic format adds heart-rending images to McKay's violent 2008 tale of children kidnapped and forced to become soldiers in Uganda. The book opens with an awareness-raising letter to readers from teen protagonist Kitina Jacob and a brutal preview to set the stage. The tale then takes him and schoolmates Tony, Paul and Norman into a sudden nightmare when soldiers of the Lord's Resistance Army burst into their dormitory. After weeks of forced marches, vicious beatings and atrocities designed to turn them into uncaring killers, the captives escape with help from mutilated campmate Hannah and others--profoundly scarred but, ultimately, resilient enough to take back their lives. Switching from white to black borders between his panels during the time of captivity to intensify the atmosphere of terror, Lafrance puts shadows or at least a little visual distance between viewers and violent acts. Wrenchingly, though, he ramps up the immediacy and emotional intensity by cutting again and again to the wide-eyed, tear-stained faces of children forced to do or to witness those acts. Powerful storytelling based on documented experiences; despite being set in 2002, it's as relevant as ever since the LRA is still all-too-active. (afterword) (Graphic historical fiction. 12-15)
Publishers Weekly
McKay's 2008 novel about Ugandan children abducted to fight in the Lord's Resistance Army returns in a graphic novel adaptation, which makes an already harrowing story all the more visceral. (Readers may have become familiar with the LRA through the short film Kony 2012, which generated significant attention in 2012.) McKay's fictional story, based on real events and people, focuses on 14-year-old Jacob, who is abducted from a seminary in Uganda along with 37 other boys in 2002. This is Lafrance's first graphic novel, and it's a striking debut. In much the same way that the story forces readers to see these child soldiers as both victims and killers (albeit unwilling ones, often), Lafrance contrasts Uganda's beauty with the brutality endured by Jacob and the other children. Images of lush jungle alternate with horrifying scenes, such as one in which three boys are forced to beat one of their own to death. As upsetting as this story is—all the more for its basis in the ongoing reality for children still conscripted into the LRA—McKay doesn't leave readers without a sense of hope. Ages 14–up. (Mar.)
Reading Today Online, International Reading Associ - Barbara A. Ward
This story is powerful, moving, and prompts much introspection about humans' inhumanity to others, boy soldiers, and how quickly an individual may be persuaded to kill another or betray others in order to save his/her own life. It also contains a powerful message about the redemptive power of hope and the resilience of individuals such as Jacob. The graphic novel format makes a compelling, heart-breaking story even more compelling. Understandably, readers will find it hard to forget this story, Jacob or his slow recovery from his ordeal.
Reverse Direction - John Seven
[Lafrance's] beautiful, colorful depictions of Africa [are] especially effective at offering the story urgency while still giving it the feeling of a boy's adventure comic--it's very reminiscent of European cartoonists like Hugo Pratt. Having this story geared to a younger audience makes the graphic novel so bold. It's depicting the horrors for the exact age group who experiences them out in the real world. It's done with such a delicate finesse that offers a path to empathy without causing a kid to sink into depression about the implications and possibilities. It puts a face on the nightmarish to just the people who can benefit from it.
Sal's Fiction Addiction - Sally Bender
It is powerful historical fiction. It is an important story to tell, and this team has done so admirably.
Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center
While capturing the horrific tragedy of the life of child soldiers, co-creators Sharon E. McKay and Daniel Lafrance also manage to offer inspiration: war decimates, and yet everlasting bonds can also be forged. [T]his is also a story of hope, courage, friendship, and family, Jacob reminds. He echoes his friend Hannah, ... that if the world knows that child soldiers suffer unimaginable cruelty and pain, then help will come. I hope this is right. With testimony as formidable as War Brothers, we can't say we didn't know. And now that we know, we must help, offer hope, and make change. That's a mantra for us all.
Booklist - Sarah Hunter
McKay and Lafrance based this harrowing story on interviews with escaped child soldiers, and they have kept their focus on the young survivors as they desperately cling to their beliefs, hold out hope for rescue, and struggle with reintegrating into their communities, where people fear that the boys have been irrevocably changed into killers. Lafrance's panels are tinted with soft, rich colors, which belie the heartrending content within. This is a sorrowful and all-too-true story, but one that ends on a hopeful note.
Canadian Children's Book News - Jeffrey Canton
This is a must for the classroom!
CanLit for Little Canadians
Winner of the 2009 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Juvenile Crime Novel, Sharon E. McKay's novel War Brothers is a gritty read, graphic in its story premise, in its details, in its reality.
Comic Book Resources - J.K. Parkin
This is a powerful graphic novel and a really good read.
Horn Book Magazine - Dean Schneider
[LaFrance's] realistic drawings enhance the story presenting an unflinchingly dark visual representation of the horrors young boys like Jacob experience at the hands of the LRA. With this graphic-novel adaptation, the author and illustrator reinforce Jacob's conclusion that his role must be to tell the world what is happening to these children, hoping for an end to the violence.
January Magazine
These components--strong story, powerful storyteller, talented artist--make for a winning combination.
S L. Gen the Honourable Romeo A. Dallaire (Ret'd)
The youth of the world have the responsibility and the power to be engaged to alter the future of humanity. War Brothers is a means to convey the plight of child soldiers in Northern Uganda to young people through a lens that is accessible and attention grabbing. Young people should be outraged that their peers are being systematically abused by adults in wars that ultimately benefit no one.
NetGalley - Martha Dodge
Normally, I prefer cleaner lines in graphic novels, but the sketchy, colored pencil type look worked really well for this story. It creates kind of a nightmare quality, reflecting the horror of being a child soldier. This is the kind of graphic novel everyone should read.
Never Again International: Canada - Melanie Tomsons
War Brothers is a riveting and compelling account of a young boy from northern Uganda who is abducted into the Lord's Resistance Army. Sharon McKay and Daniel Lafrance have created a powerful graphic novel that provides a true no-holds-barred account of life as a child soldier. Readers are swept into the world of these child soldiers through intense action and dialogue where they experience their pain and losses, but also their triumphs and their courage. War Brothers presents this gripping tale in an engaging and attractive way for younger readers and fuels the elimination of the weapons system of recruiting children into war.
Quill and Quire - Robert J. Wiersema
A challenging, uncompromising work... a beautiful treatment of stark ugliness... McKay's exhaustive research and extensive interviews with former child soldiers, and the verisimilitude she brings to her characterization and storytelling render the abstract concept of child soldiers with an all-too-real clarity. Lafrance's art adds another layer, transitioning from crisp naturalism to stylized shadows and colours as panic and violence rise in the characters... This is a powerful, important work of reality-based fiction... Parents [may] wonder whether their children should read it. The answer to this question is not only, Yes, they should, but also, Yes, they must.
CM - Chris Laurie
Daniel Lafrance's striking artwork vividly brings the reader face to face with the children who are forced to participate in a brutal war they know little about... War Brothers is a truly important work both in the original version and in this graphic novel version. Highly recommended.
Library Media Connection - Jennifer Flaherty
This title would be a great addition to any Junior High or High School and could be used as a supplement for Social Studies or English classrooms... Highly recommended.
January Magazine Best of 2013 Children's Books
These components -- strong story, powerful storyteller, talented artist -- make for a winning combination.
wakingbraincells. com - Tasha Saecker
Highly recommended, this is a story that is riveting to read as long as you are brave enough to continue turning the pages.
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—In this devastatingly realistic graphic novel, 14-year-old Jacob and his friends are just starting school at George Jones Seminary for Boys. The story tells of their subsequent kidnapping and near induction into the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Complete innocents at first, the boys endure near starvation, grueling conditions, and physical violence as they travel out of northern Uganda and into Sudan. Many of their experiences are difficult to read, including an incident involving Tony, Jacob's best friend from his village, who is forced to kill an injured boy or face mutilation. Still, what went on in this part of this world in the early 2000s is an important global issue for people of all ages to be aware of, and these boys prove to be a good entry point into a difficult subject. Although War Brothers, adapted from the author's prose novel Puffin, 2008), is fiction, it is based on interviews with survivors; "everything that happened in this book has happening, and is happening still." With his first graphic novel, Lafrance's watercolor artwork truly shines, depicting many close-ups that convey the deep emotions that the characters are going through, whether it be the naïve innocence of Jacob, the confliction of Tony, or the psychotic aggression of their LRA kidnappers. A truly important work that is well worth the read.—Ryan P. Donovan, New York Public Library

Product Details

Annick Press, Limited
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.90(w) x 9.60(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years


Meet the Author

Sharon E. McKay is a bestselling, award-winning author. Her books include Enemy Territory and Thunder Over Kandahar. She divides her time between Charlottetown, PEI, and Toronto, Ontario.

Daniel Lafrance is a storyboard and graphic novel artist and has worked as an artist in the film industry for many years. He lives in Toronto.

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War Brothers: The Graphic Novel 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
TeenAtHeart More than 1 year ago
Review originally posted at Bettering Me Up. This is not a book for children. Repeat: NOT a book for children. It's a graphic novel, but don't let that fool you. I felt absolutely sick while reading this and I'm sure I'm going to have nightmares tonight. I wouldn't dare give it to a child. However awful I may feel after I finished this graphic novel, it's nothing near what the children in the Lord's Republican Army in Uganda experience on a daily basis. Intellectually, I know about Joseph Kony and his group of rebel soldiers. I've heard of the atrocities he advocates and the kill-or-be-killed mentality amongst his varied groups of soldiers. This book -- this perfectly-illustrated, emotionally-charged, scary-as-hell look at what a boy goes through after he is kidnapped -- brings it all home. If you are bothered by children put in terrible situations, don't read this graphic novel. If, however, you want the experience of what it's like to be a child of war, pick this up immediately. I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
Heidi_G More than 1 year ago
Adapted from the author's novel, "War Brothers," this version shows, through beautiful illustrations and prose, the horrors of civil war and the cost of human bondage on a group, be it a tribe or nation. The violence is appropriate to the topic and is such that readers middle-school age and above will understand in the context with which it is shown. You will cheer for the boys (and the few girls mentioned), rooting for them to escape or at least make the best decision in whatever situation they find themselves in. A great source for teaching about civil war and enslavement.