May 27, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Alpha by Bessora | SLJ Review

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redstarBESSORA. Alpha: Abidjan to Paris. tr. from French by Sarah Ardizzone. illus. by Barroux. 128p. map. Bellevue Literary Pr. May 2018. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781942658405.

Gr 10 Up –Alpha does not consider himself “illegal”; he thinks of himself as an adventurer. But he’s even stronger, or perhaps just luckier, than most wayfarers. He says, “Indiana Jones would have died eight times over” if he’d been faced with the thirst, uncertainty, deception, illness, and death that Alpha experiences on his months-long trek from Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, to Paris, France, making the same journey as his wife and child. Yet his legal path to immigration is stymied by an endless loop of required documentation and fees, and he is forced to bribe his way into traffickers’ faulty cars. Alpha faces frustration and pain with optimism, accompanied by other dreamers looking for hope in Europe. Barroux’s illustrations are spare and imprecise, mirroring the bleak and unsettling odyssey. Sponsored by grants and nonprofit organizations such as Amnesty International, the book breaks from the traditional dynamic graphic novel format of panels and speech bubbles. Rather, Bessora’s expressive words serve as captions to the half-page illustrations, making the work feel more like a photo journal at times. Subtle elements of collage are incorporated; small photographs, often of young children, peek into the fore- or background of certain scenes. While the visuals and language are not explicit, they depict gambling, prostitution, AIDS, infant mortality, and murder. A map offers readers context. VERDICT This stark, poetic story personalizes immigration. For all libraries.–Anna Murphy, Berkeley Carroll School, Brooklyn

This review was published in the School Library Journal May 2018 issue.

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