March 02, 2015

Cybils Finalist Review: THE HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS by Max Brooks and Caanan White

Summary: The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II are, by now, well-known to American and African American history. But the regiment known as the Harlem Hellfighters--the Army's 369th infantry unit--were the first American unit to reach the Rhine in the First World War, and yet despite being highly decorated, they faced racism and discrimination during their time. Less violent, but no less shameful, is their relegation to the sidelines of history that is arguably still going on. (For more information on that, check out this Time/Life article.)

Peaks: Obviously those who like history, war stories and/or action will be the most interested in this one. It is violent, hard-hitting, and pulls no punches – something that will appeal to some readers and not others. It is definitely one for older YA readers because of the raw honesty with which the ghastliness of war is depicted--and because readers with less knowledge of the historical context and/or less life experience might find some aspects of the story hard to figure out. (I relied heavily on my experience with other WWI stories and war stories.) Beyond the war story aspect, though, it's a wonderful story of a little-known group of courageous men, a history that should be better-known, and it's great to see it brought to life.

click to embiggen
Valleys: There were some confusing aspects to the graphic storytelling in particular that tripped me up here and there. While the art overall was very good, the noir-ish style of the drawing became confusing and hard to follow during the chaotic war scenes, or other busy scenes. At times this affected actual story transitions and I had to take a moment to speculate about what had just happened. I couldn't help wishing that the book had included one or two colors, or at least more values of gray, instead of using only line art.

Conclusion: This graphic novel, a gripping story, brings to life some lost voices from our own historical past. The story is sure to inspire both pride and outrage, and readers will be shocked to see in "graphic" detail the realities of what it was like to be a black man in this era, not to mention the horrors of war that did not spare anyone regardless of skin color.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my local library. You can find The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks and Canaan White at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!


Gail Gauthier said...

I'm a big fan of Brooks' book WWZ.

Sarah Stevenson said...

I haven't read it, but I've talked to several people who really liked that one! I may have to check it out, though I'm a bit hit or miss on zombie books.