Review by Erin Griffin
Can a human be illegal? Authors Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin, and illustrator Giovanni Rigano begin to unpack this question in the emotionally-gripping graphic novel Illegal. The book tells the powerful story of ten-year-old Ebo and his older brother, Kwame, who are fleeing Ghana to reunite with their asylum-seeking sister in Europe. The boys cross dangerous cities, deserts, and waters on their quest for new life, demonstrating extraordinary courage and resilience throughout. This book is best suited for ages 10 and older, as younger readers may have difficulty carrying the story’s emotional load.
This graphic novel does some of the most important work that multicultural literature strives to accomplish, which is to humanize the experiences of those who are different from ourselves. Ebo’s journey is epic and heartbreaking, leaving any reader with an entirely new understanding of what it means to seek refuge, as well as the traumas suffered by refugee children. This understanding is enhanced by Rigano’s artwork, which is both beautiful and devastating. In one episode, for instance, we see four vibrantly colorful panels, one of which depicts a terrified Ebo, clutching a stranger’s newborn as he struggles to keep the two of them afloat in rocky waters. This book serves as a counter-narrative to the stigmas connoted with immigration and gives voice to real-life refugees in its epilogue. If you’re a human seeking to understand the resilience of other humans, I highly recommend this book.
Illegal. (2017). Eoin Colfer. Illustrated by Andrew Donkin and Giovanni Rigano. Hodder. 122 pgs.
Erin Griffin is a graduate student studying Secondary English Language Arts Education and has a Pomeranian named Flip-Flop.