War Brother by Sharon E. McKay Book Review

War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay
Illustrations by Daniel LaFrance
Publisher: Annick Press
Release Date: February 7, 2013

This is the graphic novel edition of Sharon McKay's novel set in Uganda, where Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has, since 1987, abducted up to 30,000 children from their villages and homes for use as soldiers and slaves. It is in these nightmarish times that the fates of 5 boys and a girl are entwined. Captured from their school by the LRA, the boys wait for rescue only to discover that if they are to survive they must rely on themselves. But friendship, courage, and resilience might not be enough to save them. Based in part upon interviews with child soldiers in Northern Uganda, War Brothers is a stunning depiction of the human cost of wars fought by children.

I did not read Sharon McKay's original novel that this is based off of. I can tell you that this is a brutal graphic novel. Heartrendingly sad, disturbing, and brutal. The artwork is brilliant, with its darkness and lightness depending on what and where the characters are at the time. The subtlety of the characters' expressions and pain was delicately done. 

My criticism lies within the genre itself. Not graphic novels, but rather historical fiction. In the past, I have always been a proponent of historical fiction as it led me to non-fiction to learn more and more about areas that interested me. World Wars, pioneers, outlaws, pirates, and colonial history were all issues of extreme fascination with me and I read everything I could my hands on whether it be fiction or non-fiction. The inherent problem with historical fiction though is that it is, by definition, fiction. Facts, although dispersed liberally throughout the book, are bendable to the stories needs. As one article put it, "Historical accuracy is like quicksand. Stay too long in the same place and it will suck you down and there will be no movement, no dynamism to the story. Too much attention to factual detail is undoubtedly an impediment to literary art."

War Brothers, for me, lacked as much of an emotional impact because the story was fiction. I am aware of the true stories of people like Edward or Charles Akallo. Although the story could have been about one of these real boys, it wasn't. Instead it was a fictional child and for me, the reader, I needed this story to be real. I appreciate the story for what it is as it is bringing some very important issues to light, I only wish those stories were biographical. I wanted desperately for there to be a picture at the end of these boys. Real boys. Perhaps this book will lead to more reading, but if I was going to put a book about child soldier's into the hands of teens I would give them A Long Way Gone.