A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return
In this suspenseful graphic novel memoir set in 1984 East Beirut, shells and snipers dominate the streets, and young Zeina is doing her utmost to comfort her little brother. The siblings huddle together in the foyer, the safest section of their family's apartment, and await their parents, who are visiting Zeina's grandparents a few blocks away. Heavy bombardment prevents their mother and father from returning home. Enter Zeina's neighbors, who have formed a tight familial bond in the face of chaos. Elderly Anhala suggests that they make sfouf, a turmeric-based cake, and the children help her whisk together the batter. Hairy, rambunctious Chucri appears with a "ROAAAAR!" that delights. Tall, thin, handlebar-mustached Ernest entertains the children with literary reenactments. More neighbors soon arrive. As the evening progresses, readers learn each character's history: Chucri's father disappeared from his car without a trace; Ernest lost his identical twin brother to a sniper.
Rendered in stark black-and-white (a style made famous by Marjane Satrapi in Persepolis), the images are all the more powerful for their simple geometric shapes and patterns. Ernest, who sits straight and stiff as others slouch, radiates an air of social awkwardness and profound sadness; as characters hug each other, their arms seem to grow larger, an outward manifestation of the sense of safety that comes with the company of loved ones. For all its talk of bombs and snipers, A Game For Swallows conveys the strength of family, biological and chosen. --Allie Jane Bruce, children's librarian, Bank Street College of Education