Graphic Novel Review: A House Without Windows

Today we welcome Mariana Ruiz to share her review of A House Without Windows, written by Marc Ellison, illustrated by Didier Kassaï and translated from French by Nanette McGuinness. (Humanoids).

by Mariana Ruiz

A cry for help for the children of Bangui.

This graphic documentary about the street children of Bangui is an invitation to look at a very difficult topic: children caught in armed conflict.

Told in a style that mixes photos and illustrations, the valiant Didier – pencil in hand – approaches anyone who is willing to talk to him, going where it seems few have dared to go: inside the warring zones of Bangui in the Central African Republic.

The history of the Central African Republic is a complicated one: it involves the government, rebels from the Séléka coalition, and anti-balaka militias. Several armed rebel forces occupied the capital, Bangui, and the situation appears to have changed very little over the last ten years.

Trapped in armed conflict and surviving in the streets, it’s tough for the kids who live there. Many are escaping abuse, or their parents have been killed by soldiers.

These kids have such a harsh life, so devoid of hope, that many call this land “a house without windows”.

Copyright Humanoids, 2021

In many ways, these terrible lives are as present here as in other zones struck with poverty. Many of these zones are hiding away in our very own cities. This graphic novel highlights child abuse that leads to children leaving their homes and facing life on the streets, where many become addicted to cheap narcotics and are even forced into prostitution. Perhaps looking at this work, with its soft colors and light, might help us remember that children need us, in impoverished zones, by the thousands, all over the world.

It is a reality so harsh, that we are usually tempted just to avert our eyes, knowing there is very little us as human individuals can do. This is why that highlighting this work is so important and why I consider its authors to be very brave. 

Through illustrations, photos, and videos (accessed via QR codes), this graphic novel takes us into the heart of this “forgotten crisis.” Didier Kassaï is an artist from the Central African Republic and Marc Ellison is a British photojournalist. Together, they take us on a journey with Banguis children and what they have to do to survive: in the streets, in diamond mines, in refugee camps.

It is a book about kids whose lives have been robbed of their infancy, and it is indeed a very different take on what we may expect from YA!

Copyright Humanoids, 2021

First published in French, this combination of photojournalism and graphic novel won the 2017 gold medal for best report awarded by the association of UN correspondents (United Nations Foundation).

Featured images by Diddier Kassaï. All images property of Humanoids, reproduced here with their kind permission. This review first appeared in an amended format on Geekdad.com.

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Mariana Ruiz is a Bolivian childrens author who publishes articles about comics, art books and YA literature on Geekdad.com. She works closely with the Bolivian Academy of Childrens literature and is constantly on the lookout for diversity in books.