TAMBA, Child Soldier

NBM. Oct. 2019. 112p. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781681122366.
Gr 8 Up–Tamba Cisso is a stand-in for hundreds of thousands of child soldiers exploited around the world. Sitting before a truth and reconciliation commission at age 16, he explains how he was abducted at age eight from an unspecified African village and forced to commit atrocities under threat of death. His experiences, as well as those of former neighbor Awa and peer Aceyta, paint a bleak picture of hyperviolent masculinity, drug addiction, rape, and endless nightmares. Escaping these abducting armies for a refugee camp is a struggle that includes learning to socialize again and reconfigure his fight-or-flight response. This tragic, high-stakes graphic novel and its haunting aftermath are gripping and dramatic, much like Sandra Uwiringiyimana’s How Dare the Sun Rise or Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree. Degruel’s illustrations work best when depicting inner conflict, such as Tamba wrestling with guilt or Awa despairing over her baby’s future. Figures often appear flat or with little detail, but the narrative and layouts are simple enough that readers won’t get lost. Articles at the end of the book relay statistics and the history surrounding child soldiers, United Nations refugee programs, and truth and reconciliation commissions.
VERDICT Exploring violence, trauma, guilt, and forgiveness, this fictionalized account of an African child soldier, infused with a thin ray of hope, will speak to readers’ shared humanity.

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