Friday, August 10, 2018


As I've written in a few reviews over the past year, immigration has been a hot button topic in the US, and an area of great shame and pain. Illegal is a book that shows the faces of those who seek asylum in other countries, the ways that they are taken advantage of by traffickers, the perils they face on their journeys, and the great lengths they go to in order to find better lives.

The narrative is told in very dramatic and revelatory fashion, with one thread in the present and one thread in a flashback. This structure is used to great dramatic effect, following a young boy from Ghana named Ebo as he follows his brother Kwame on a quest to get to Europe. Both boys are orphaned and live with their drunk uncle. Kwame is older and decides to leave and find their older sister Sisi who has left for Europe years before. They have not heard from her at all and have no idea what has happened to her, but still Kwame feels he will be successful and could then send for his little brother.
Ebo is headstrong however and sets off in hot pursuit of Kwame. The brothers meet up coincidentally, and together they strive to get to Italy. Along they way they have to survive the desert, opportunistic criminals, overcrowded boats, and the open sea.

I do not want to spoil what happens in this book, but much of it is grim. It seems to me that the creators here went to great lengths to make the stories and circumstances as realistic as possible. There are many political and economic dimensions to the tale, and most impressively also much heart and human drama. I really felt for the characters and their plights, and I feel any reader would be greatly moved by this story. It is an excellent book that informs about important current events and also sheds insight into life and humanity.

The trio that made this book have also worked on four previous volumes, graphic novel adaptations of the Artemis Fowl series. Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin are the writers and the art is provided by Giovanni Rigano. Colfer is a novelist who is best known for the Fowl series, Donkin a children's book author/ninja assassin, and Rigano is an artist who has worked on a good number of previous graphic novel adaptations. This interview with Colfer sheds more light on the book and its reception in Europe, where it has garnered much praise and some accolades.

All of the reviews I have read about it have been very positive. Kirkus Reviews summed up, "Action-filled and engaging but considerate of both topic and audience, Ebo’s story effectively paints a picture of a child refugee’s struggle in a world crisscrossed by hostile borders." Sarah Donaldson called it "a deeply affecting and thought-provoking." In their starred review, Publishers Weekly described it as "achingly poignant."

Illegal was published in the US by Sourcebooks. They offer a teaching discussion guide for it here, and there is a video preview available here. This book is pitched as a children's book, but it does not sugarcoat harsh and horrible conditions, so I'd recommend previewing it before deciding to share it with younger readers.

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