The refugee crisis has bought up heartbreaking stories of innocent people looking for a new home, away from their poor or war torn countries. The new graphic novel Illegal is a fictional telling of one of these stories, presenting an image of heartbreak and perseverance. The writing of Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin is combined with the illustrations of Giovanni Rigano to give readers a story that needs to be told for everyone to understand the difficult journey of refugees and migrants.
After learning that his brother, Kwame, has left, Ebo decides to leave Ghana to find him. When the brothers are reunited, they continue the trek to Europe, hoping to find their older sister and a better home. But the journey is not easy. The brothers have to endure the scorching heat of the Sahara Desert, cramped buses, cruel men, and the dangerous vast seas on a small raft and a crowded ship. But even with so many trials to face, Ebo, Kwame, and other refugees keep their hopes up to find a new life.
The journey in Illegal is difficult on both the characters and the reader, but it is important to understand. Ebo witnesses the evil of his fellow men and the environment they live in. There are scenes of smuggling operations, dead bodies discovered in the deserts, evading capture from the local authorities, and people drowning in the ocean. Although disturbing, these scenes show the real dangers that people face when making this and similar journeys. Colfer and Dankin’s strong and emotionally impactful writing makes Ebo’s fictional situation feel personal. Their choice to include Ebo’s interactions with other refugees provides additional contextual examples of why people make such a dangerous journey.
Giovanni Rigano’s artwork provides a detailed look into Ebo’s world. Nighttime scenes are dark with deep blue hues, especially in the middle of the ocean at night. The trek through the desert has bright hues and a stark landscape with little to no people around. Scenes of refugees crammed into boats and vehicles are shown with enough detail and description that it may make the reader feel claustrophobic. There is also the detailed emotions of each character visually shown and changing from one panel to the next. A map is included after the story, showing Ebo’s journey from beginning to end. The creators provide a note with information about the journey refugees have taken and the dangers they have faced. The endpages include a short black and white comic based on a true refugee story from the United Kingdom organization Women for Refugee Women.
Illegal is an important addition to any school or public library’s collection. Due to its theme and dramatic scenes, the graphic novel is more suited for middle school readers (5th-6th grade), as well as young adult readers (7th-9th grade). Those who want to know more about the refugee crisis may want to read this graphic novel, as well as visit the websites provided on the acknowledgement page.
by Eoin Colfer Andrew Donkin
Art by Giovanni Rigano Donkin
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 10 and up