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Review: Deogratias: A tale of Rwanda (Stassen)

Title: Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda
Author: Jean-Philippe Stassen
Genre: Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5
FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school's library
Challenges: Graphic Novel (#12), POC (#1)
Summary (from the inside flap): Deogratias is just a boy. Benina is just a girl. Teenagers like teenagers everywhere. Only he is a Hutu, and she is a Tutsi--so say their ID cards. We are in Rwanda in the days leading to a swift and gruesome genocide; the world will watch and do nothing. In less than a hundred days, 800,000 human beings will be hacked to death.

Review: Let me start out with the parts I liked about this book. The artwork is wonderful, descriptive and haunting. I really understood the fear, the destitution, and the angst through Stassen's illustrations. I also really liked the note from the translator at the beginning that gave the historical overview of the Rwandan genocide. It includes historical background about the various European countries who ruled the area as well as the build-up to and the actual events and details of the horrific 100 days in 1994 during which Hutus slaughtered almost a million Tutsis.

As a history teacher I am very familiar with this period of time and the events that took place in Rwanda. I had high hopes for this graphic novel that it would really show the students at our school the events of the genocide and get them interested in it enough to continue on in their reading. I wanted this book to be a gateway book, one that leads to further reading. My prediction is that isn't going to happen. This book could have done so much and been so powerful, but I felt let down. It is vague (so it's a good thing the history is laid out for the reader) and confusing, jumping back and forth between pre- and post-genocide sometimes within 2 frames. While Stassen did a good job showing the devastating effect the events had on the main character, he used fantasy-like human-becomes-like-an-animal imagery that didn't really work for me.

Other reviewers have given this book a 5 out of 5. I wish I could do that. I so badly wanted this book to work, but it just didn't for me. Is there a book you found yourself disappointed not because you just didn't like it, but because you felt it had potential and importance and it just didn't accomplish that?

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