Eoin Colfer is well-known for his many novels for middle-grade readers. His Artemis Fowl series, about a teenage criminal mastermind, has been popular for well over ten years and was adapted into a graphic novel. More recently, Colfer has set out to write an original graphic novel.
By Eoin Colfer. Andrew Donkin. Giovanni Rigano
Sourcebooks. August 2018. ISBN 9781492662143
HC, $19.99. 128pp.
Grades 6 and up
Illegal is a story of refuguees. It’s about a young boy in Africa who’s determined to catch up with his brother and meet up with his sister, both of whom have set out to make a better life for themselves in another country. But the path to freedom is dangerous and harrowing. This fictional account is based on many true stories of people trying to cross the rough African Desert and the Mediterranean.
When Kwame, Ebo’s brother, suddenly leaves to find a better life and to find their sister Sisi, Ebo follows. He is a resourceful kid who uses whatever he can find to make his journey. A fallen package from a medical truck has him bartering the goods for food and services, but his gifted voice is ultimately what reunites him with his brother in a chance meeting and enables him to scrape up the money to pay the smugglers to get them out of the country.
The narrative cuts back and forth between Ebo and Kwame’s journey on a leaky boat in middle of the Mediterranean Sea and the events that led them there. The transitions work well and aren’t confusing. Most readers will find the story seamless. The tale is engrossing and readers will feel the ride, the ups and downs, as Ebo does.
The endnotes offer a first-hand account by Helen, an actual refugee, adapted to comic form.
The dramatic artwork with bright, vibrant colors captures the swirling activity and adds to the heightened tension of the story. This gripping tale should be added to every bookshelf, so young readers have an idea of the harrowing journeys people throughout the world take to make a better life. Will it be a popular read? Not likely, but those who do read it won’t be disappointed—more likely, they’ll be moved.
About Esther Keller
Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. She also curates the Graphic Novel collection for the NYC DOE Citywide Digital Library. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.
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