Safe Passage

Tu Bks. Mar. 2024. 224p. pap. $20.95. ISBN 9781643790343.
Gr 8 Up–On the anniversary of his mother’s death, Darius ignores his stepfather’s instructions to never stray from the safe path to school into gang turf; he joins Charles, his clout-hungry friend who is trying to make a rep for himself as “Big Money,” in skipping class to hopefully find a bag of cash that fell from an armored car. This could help Darius’s family avoid eviction, but everything quickly goes wrong, including his little sister Cissy following him into contested territory. Drawn digitally in layered black and white, the artwork contains a plethora of details of the Chicago environment and nimbly switches between cartoonlike figurework and nicely observed realistic behavior, sometimes in the same scene. This gives the art an energy that the story requires to help propel readers through the repetitive scenes of bad decisions and resulting peril. The journey is meant to be epic and arduous, and the stakes receive breathing room and context to feel realistic instead of artificially heightened. However, the storytelling becomes a grind, particularly as the characters continually make terrible—though age-appropriate—choices that sap them of sympathy. This is especially disappointing as so much effort is spent to effectively humanize almost every character, including the climactic antagonist of the piece.
VERDICT A well-crafted story that somewhat balances humor and risk, character and caricature, but which may leave readers unsympathetic after the deluge of circumstances stretches on, losing the power to sustain either threat or investment.

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