If he’d only listened to his father, Michel wouldn’t have lost part of his childhood but what he experienced with the rebel soldiers will never be erased from his mind. Michel was five when he was taken with his best friend Kevin by a group of rebel militia while they were playing basketball after school. His father told him to come right home after school but Michel ignored his father words. Military vehicles were a common sight so when they pulled up alongside the court, the boys disregarded them. When boys in ratted clothing emerged setting off their firearms, the boys fell to the ground. Thrown in the back of their trucks with other boys, they went for a ride. They were soon going to be initiated into the militia’s army. Michel tried to stand up for himself but that only led to him becoming the example in the group. The militia used a variety of means to get their recruits to obey including drugs, force, amputation and of course, death. Michel was forced to perform many actions that horrified and ashamed him as the weeks passed in the countryside. Scared, Michel wanted to go home but the recruits were under constant supervision. Finally, Michel sees an opportunity to escape. As he surfaces to the outside world, Michel emerges a changed individual. He is no longer an innocent child, he has a story that no one else has.
I thought this was a terrific graphic novel memoir that communicates a great story. The illustrations were wonderfully done, not overly dramatic but using facial expressions and other means, the story is presented nicely. I liked the variety of text fonts that were used as I thought that added to the drama of the story. It is 1993 and there is political turmoil occurring in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Michel is in the middle of it. I was surprised how young Michel was when this story took place. I felt that Michel’s father placed too much responsibility on Michel’s shoulders as I read this novel. Michel’s father is a human rights lawyer and an activist and since Michel is the only son in the family, his father tells him what he wants him to do should the police arrest him. His father had many good words of wisdom that he tells his son and I had to wonder how far Michel would take his father’s advice, his father was a man and Michel was now a child of eight. I felt these expectations were a bit high for a child so young. I did appreciate how this novel talked about the country before the fighting began and why the fighting is taking place. I felt this knowledge set the story up before Michel’s drama began. I felt a good connection with Michel throughout the story and I felt closure at the end. At the end of the novel, there is a current photo of Michel and a short narrative about what Michel is presently doing. There is also a question and answer section about Boys and Girls in War and what individuals can do about it, which I thought was very interesting and thorough. The author also included a list of a few other resources individuals can check out if they are interested in child soldiers. This graphic novel is worth checking out.