Backderf's latest novel is a meticulous account of the events of May 1-4, 1970 at Kent State University. The storyline follows Jeff, Allison, Bill, and Sandy, the four students who were killed during anti-Vietnam-war, anti-military conflicts on Kent State's campus, as well as several of the wounded students and a few of the soldiers of the National Guard. Rising tensions between student protestors and National Guardsmen were stoked by sleep-deprived soldiers and commanding officers, a governor infused with law-and-order politics, and persistent student protests that were unrelenting for several days. Throughout, there are pages of exposition offering insights from Backderf's extensive research.
Backderf does an excellent job of pulling the reader into the stories of the four students, and I occasionally forgot about their tragic fate. There are small hints every once in a while, like when on of the girls asks her roommate to remind her to call her family later. Everything narrated about May 4th is especially chilling, and the moments leading up to the explosion of bullets is anxiety-inducing. Also included are 25 pages of detailed notes to show the extensive amount of research Backderf put into this project. There are many parallels between the Kent State Shooting and what life is currently like in January of 2021. The rhetoric for the pro-military guardsmen lays blame on the radical left students being brainwashed by Russia, and they claim the students are Communist agents. The anti-war students claim that anyone pro-military is a Fascist. Both of these accusations have been popular in national discourse in the last four years. There are also a lot of conspiracy theories about people infiltrating the student protest to incite violence, similar to what has been claimed about the January 6th Insurrection at the White House. It is disturbing to see these same theories and rhetoric used fifty years later.
The illustrations are fully in black and white, and they are reminiscent of Sunday Funnies. The features of Backderf's people are not soft, and many of the ladies have masculine features. But, Backderf has faithfully depicted the campus and the people based on the historical footage, photographs, and Kent State itself.
There is alcohol and cigarettes as these are college students who frequent bars in their off time. The ending with the details of how students were killed or injured is very matter-of-fact and doesn't spare any detail about how bullets decimated the bodies of the students. The subject matter makes this much more appropriate for a high school library. This outstanding graphic novel is definitely deserves to be in all high school collections, especially those with an emphasis on historical volumes.
Sara's Rating: 9/10
Suitability Level: Grades 10-12
Tags: Rating: 9/10, Suitability: High School, Graphic Nonfiction, History, War
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