Book review: Deogratias: a Tale of Rwanda, by J.P. Stassen, translated by Alexis Siegel

Stassen, J.P. Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda. Trans by Alexis Siegel. Intro. By Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse. First Second. 2018. $21.99. 78p. ISBN 978-1-250-18964-6. Ages 15+. P9Q9

Early in the 20th century, Germans and Belgians made one Rwandan tribe, the Tutsis, the elite ruling group over the poorer farming Hutus. In 1994, the Hutus rose in rebellion to exterminate the Tutsis and killing 800,000 people in 100 days. This genocide is seen through the eyes of Deogratias, “thanks be to God,” a Hutu teenager in love with Apollinaria, a Tutsi. As darkness descends through the brutal revels in the graphic novel, he goes from an ordinary boy to believing that he is a dog, possibly from the toxic banana beer that he drinks to forget the past. The narrative also includes the hypocrisy of whites, some of them priests, who go to Rwanda to help the people but simply use them for their own means. Black bordered panels depict current events, and borderless panels represent the past war and carnage as the boy goes through his transformation by being forced into murdering two Tutsi friends. The heaviness of the boy’s experiences is heightened by the black outlines of people and the dark hues.

Verdict: Some people may consider Stassen’s grim narrative inappropriate for teenagers, but it shows the life of many people in the world as massacres occur throughout the world and people continue their inhumane behavior. This brilliant work communicates the horror and heartbreaking lives of ordinary Hutus who were unable to avoid the tragedy of their country.

April 2019 review by Nel Ward.

[Editor’s note: Originally published in Belgium by Dupuis, Deogratias won the 2000 Goscinny Prize for outstanding graphic novel script.]

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Book review: The Sand Warrior (5 Worlds, book 1), by Mark Siegel and Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, and Boya Sun

Siegel, Mark and Alexis Siegel. The Sand Warrior. Illus. by Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, and Boya Sun. (5 Worlds series, book 1) Random House, 2017. $18.99. 249p. ISBN 9781101935866. Ages 10-13. P8Q8

Three young people—wealthy but inept sand dancer Oona Lee, street urchin An Tzu, and famous sports figure Jax Amboy—find themselves together trying to save the Five Worlds from extinction by lighting five ancient beacons. It’s epic fantasy with flowing bright colors and non-stop action after their world of Mon Domani is attacked. The format moves from the traditional by bleeding dialog bubbles to the edge, and the vivid palette of colors is inviting.

Verdict: Characters develop into a greater understanding of themselves and acceptance of others, and the authors deal skillfully with income inequality and the shortage of resources on the world, even water. Illustrations of the female form are not stereotyped: although Oona is graceful, she isn’t a standard slim gorgeous girl found in many graphic narratives. The busyness of the plot sometimes makes it hard to understand, but the plot keeps readers moving.

May/June 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Last Man: The Show, by Bastien Vives and Michael Sanlaville, illustrated by Balek and Bastien Vives

Vives, Bastien and Michael Sanlaville. Last Man: The Show. [Last Man series, book 4]. Il. Balek and Bastien Vives. Trans. Alexis Siegel. First Second, 2016. $9.99. 208p. 978-1-62672-049-7. Ages 14-17. P8Q8

Balak Last Man 4Mother and son Marianne and Adrian Velba catch up to the father surrogate, lover, and fighter, Richard Aldana, who they met in the first volume of this series. Four volumes of this French black and white manga have now been published in the U.S., and the action is constant as young Adrian destroys large opponents in the ring, sometimes with the help of his magical mother in the Fighting Fists Funeral Cup, world-famous boxing tournament. The setting of megalopolis Paxton continues as Vives brings former characters from Marianne’s homeland and new ones to produce another tease at the end for the next volume.

May 2016 review by Nel Ward.