Summary: Jacob is looking forward to going to George Jones seminary for Boys in Uganda with his friends Tony and Paul, but on their first night there the students are abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA claims they have God on their side and that they are fighting for Uganda, but they are forcing children to be soldiers and leading them down a path of violence and lies. Jacob lives in hope that his father will rescue him, but when it becomes clear help isn’t on the way, he decides he and the family he has created in the midst of the horror around them are going to escape. But escape means returning to a life that doesn’t fit anymore, and each of them deals with this new reality in their own way.
Number of Pages: 234
Age Range: 14-16
Review: I couldn’t resist taking the opportunity to read the book behind War Brothers: The Graphic Novel just to compare and I am so glad I did. Because I liked it better. Sharon E. McKay has a great writing style of being able to seamlessly interweave an educational piece with a great story that keeps its reader gripped in its clutches till the end.
There was quite a bit more depth than there was in the graphic novel, as well as the renewal of storylines that had to be cut to fit the other style. With the additional material, the story becomes more about dealing with a horrific experience and then trying to adjust to ‘normal’ life again, as opposed to simply escaping the horrific experience.
Even though it’s about child soldiers in Uganda, something vastly outside of the Canadian experience, it is relatable and real for readers who have been through a life-changing experience that causes others to see them differently. It’s about facing the worst humanity has to offer, and deciding what kind of life to live after seeing that kind of evil. It’s also about the unshakeable bond that develops when two or more people share an extraordinary experience, good or bad.
I loved the characters, but it was Tony and Oteka that really got to me. Tony because I could understand how shattered he was after his experiences. I think the reason why it is easier to shatter the good ones is because they simply can’t live with what they have done and the only option is to become more evil in response to the self-hatred that is going on inside. As for Oteka, he really was a hero, and I was inspired by his determination to meet his fate and save other girls and boys.
Wow, I really did love this book. Writing this review is putting tears in my eyes remembering McKay’s powerful characters and words. I could write more, but I’ll leave the quotes speak for themselves because there were just so many of them that I felt deserved to be included.
I am having a bit of trouble placing an age on this one though. War Brothers: The Graphic Novel is clearly more accessible to younger and reluctant readers, but War Brothers, the novel, deserves a reader that is a little bit older to truly appreciate its depth.
“Jacob lay in the dark, hands behind his head, and thought that he couldn’t have been happier. Once, old Bella had said that cooking made her happy because it allowed her to share her happiness. It was true, he thought. A person could be content alone, maybe even at peace, but happiness was real only if it was shared.” – from War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay, page 59
“‘You see? We are the enemy now,’ hissed Tony. ‘Our school – they do not want us back. You think you can go home? You cannot. None of us can go home again. We have con in us now – evil spirits.’ Tony’s mouth curled into a sneer, although tears pooled in his eyes. ‘You think that if you do not kill they will take you back? They will not believe you. They will treat you like a murderer. Even your father.'” – Tony from War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay, pages 124-125
“Jacob sighed. A truth had been building up inside him for a long time. And then, as with all revelations, it arrived in a flash. He looked from Norman to Paul and over to where Tony sat. The boys from school were scattered about. He looked from one to the other. No one was coming to save them . . . A certain resolve settled into his heart.
‘We have to save ourselves,’ Jacob whispered. No one heard, not even Paul. ‘We will save ourselves.'” – Jacob from War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay, page 127
“This new Jacob was not shy any longer. He was not a leader, not a follower either, nor was he a warrior. He was something else. He was his own person, and he was not afraid. God willing, he would fight to live, but never would he live to fight.” – from War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay, page 157
“‘I will tell you something. If I had a brother I would like him to be like you. Smart. Good at multiplication. You are my war brother. We are in a war and we will win the war because we are the good, and good people win. Then you will be my peace brother.'” – Jacob talking to Norman from War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay, page 163
“‘You are right to worry about him,’ said Hannah. ‘The commanders – they can tell which boys can be broken like glass. Shattered glass cannot be put together. When the good boys become LRA they become especially mean, especially dangerous. I have seen it happen over and over.’
‘How do they know which boy to pick?’ Jacob asked.
‘Bullies always know.’ – conversation between Hannah and Jacob from War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay, page 184
“In this country, in his Africa, it was possible to see Heaven while standing in Hell.” – from War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay, page 185
“‘Soon the reasons why will be forgotten and only the actions will remain. The deeds – good and bad – will be all we remember.'” – Oteka from War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay, page 209
“‘Are we born to be beasts? Is that our nature?’ Jacob’s throat closed up.
‘No, we can choose. That is God’s gift,’ said Oteka.
It occurred to Jacob that he would give his life for this friend, and yet the two had never talked, not the way friends talk. Was it possible to know a person’s soul and not know the person?” – Conversation between Jacob and Oteka from War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay, page 221
“I remember Michael, the boy called Lizard. Hindsight allows me to see that he was as much a victim as an enemy. but that is the question that we all wrestle with – where does the victim end and the criminal begin? Who is accountable? Child soldiers are instruments of evil men. How can we punish the child? What happens when the child grows up and continues on the path of murder and destruction? The world will see many more such children. It is a question that must be answered.” – Jacob from War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay, page 225
“Uganda is where my heart resides and I could no more live without my country than I could live without my heart.” – Jacob from War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay, page 229
“We tell the story of the crocodile and the scorpion over and over, then debate and wonder: Are we all beasts inside? What is our nature? Can a good boy be turned into a killer more easily than one who was not a good boy in the first place? I think of how the words of God were so misused by Kony and his commanders. I now believe that if you tell a lie, feed it, nurture it, and help it to grow, it will be believed. It will grow powerful despite being rotten at the core.” Jacob from War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay, page 231