Those who survive relocation from war-torn regions are, as the narrator of Who Owns the Clouds? puts it, "different from other people." In this fictional YA graphic memoir by Mario Brassard, with illustrations by Gérard DuBois and translation by Yvette Ghione, the degree of that difference is etched with matchless precision and grace.
In an unnamed city at an unspecified time (the book's art conjures Europe in the mid-1900s), nine-year-old Mila and her family must leave their bombed-out village. This requires waiting with her neighbors in a line that "went on for days, and the days went on for weeks." Mila has decided not to tell readers "everything": knowing "that one person went through this pain is enough, I think." Taking the edge off the pain are imagination-driven aspects, as when Mila wonders this about that seemingly endless line: "Where exactly did it lead? Would things be better there?" Things do get better for Mila, who, readers eventually learn, is telling her story at age 34 from the safety of her home in a new land.
Who Owns the Clouds? is the first illustrated book from kids' novelist Brassard and another standout from DuBois (On the Other Side of the Forest). Working digitally, DuBois signals the book's era with predominantly black and gray images that could pass for woodcuts set against newsprint-colored backdrops. Speaking for themselves are occasional wordless illustrations, as of young Mila reclining outdoors post-bombing with some neighborhood cats, in a cross-species display of mutual consolation. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author