________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 8. . . .October 28, 2016


Blood Brothers.

Colleen Nelson.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2017.
240 pp., trade pbk., epub & PDF, $12.99 (pbk.), $8.99 (epub), $12.99 (PDF).
ISBN 978-1-4597-3746-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4597-3748-8 (epub), ISBN 978-1-4597-3747-1 (PDF).

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



Lincoln gives a low whistle. “You did that last night?” He tilts his head, pushing up the flat brim of his baseball hat. His narrow slits of eyes with their heavy line of lashes scan the piece, drinking it in. The piece looks even better in the daylight.

“Yeah. Where the hell were you? I went by your place at midnight and the lights were out.”

Lincoln pulls the brim of his hat back over his eyes. “Henry’s back.”

I give a noncommittal grunt. “Is he gonna hang around for a while?” I pull my hood up. It’s the last few weeks of summer, still hot out, too hot for a hoodie, but I like being able to disappear under it.

All I can see is Link’s mouth. “Got a new tattoo. It says ‘Brothers to the End.’ Right across his chest,” Lincoln brags.

What lies did Henry spin to make Lincoln think the tattoo was for him? Biting down hard, I want to tell Lincoln that after a year and a half in jail, Henry has a whole gang of brothers. But criticizing Henry never gets me far. Some weird hero-worship thing keeps Lincoln from admitting who his brother really is: a criminal.

We walk toward the park, kicking a can back and forth. A few kids on BMX bikes are doing tricks around the fountain.


Lincoln and Jakub are best friends, especially close when they are working on graffiti together. As Morf and Skar, they make their own personal mark on their neighbourhood. Things begin to change, however, when Jakub wins a scholarship to a private school across town. This is his chance to make something of himself and to live up to his father’s belief that it was worth leaving Poland to have a better life in Canada. On the other hand, Lincoln has been invited to join the Red Bloodz, his brother’s gang. The thoughts of quick and easy money and a place to belong are very tempting. But Lincoln is faced with a dilemma when the gang thinks Jakub knows more than he should about their activities and want him silenced. Whose side is Lincoln on?

     Current newscasts often preface a story with the words ‘gang activity’ or ‘gang-related’, and Colleen Nelson offers her readers a gritty inside look at the world of a modern urban street gang. Lincoln’s brother has already served time in jail, and Lincoln doesn’t have much support at home so, when he is invited to join the gang, he sees a chance to impress his brother and find a new family. However he is soon asked to prove himself during various gang activities, and readers realize that Lincoln’s true character is quite different from that of other gang members. He misses the fun of hanging out with his good friend Koob (Jakub), but that seems rather juvenile when compared to the macho gang world presented to him. Events literally become deadly, and Lincoln has to make some tough choices. In Lincoln, Nelson presents a character whom readers like despite his actions. Watching him throughout the novel is like standing on the side while you know a train wreck is undoubtedly going to happen. You don’t want to be an eye-witness, yet cannot tear yourself away.

     Koob faces a different reality but some equally difficult decisions, and Nelson paints him as a good kid, trying to live up to expectations of those who are important to him. Being the son of a Polish immigrant, a top priority for him is to please his father and live up to his expectations. As well, Koob is a good Catholic boy and is influenced by Father Dom to live an honest and Christian lifestyle. When Father Dom and the church help to arrange Koob’s scholarship to a private school, there really is no choice. Koob can’t let people down even if it means entering an entirely different world and leaving much of his old life behind.

     Nelson writes the book from the viewpoint of both boys – a chapter entitled “Lincoln” followed by one entitled “Jakub” and so on throughout the novel. Readers see how the boys react to one another and also understand their private thoughts and concerns. Lincoln’s conscience tells him the gang life isn’t acceptable, and yet he is drawn deeper and deeper into increasingly serious situations. Jakub figures out what has happened and knows that the police need to be called in to handle these more gang offences, but he has difficulty bringing himself to rat on his best friend. Both boys are confronted with difficult decisions about their deepest values, and in this way Nelson reflects on what makes people brothers – a literal blood connection or a series of shared experiences?

     Blood Brothers will have huge appeal to both male and female young adult readers. Nelson confronts issues in a way which is thought-provoking yet entertaining at the same time. More and more, graffiti is part of our modern urban landscape, and Nelson helps readers understand the motivation behind these artists who use graffiti to express both their frustrations and their hopes. As mentioned earlier, gangs and gang activities seem to be part of every newscast, and Nelson gives her readers a better understanding of the peer pressure which sucks even good kids into the world of gangs, and she illustrates the virtual impossibility of getting out once you are too deeply involved.

     The themes of the book may seem harsh, but they are realistic and timely, and Nelson is a thoughtful and understanding author who shows readers that her characters are multi-faceted and trying to do their best when faced with tough situations and even tougher life decisions. Her writing is fast-paced, and the story had me absolutely engrossed, wondering how two seemingly good teenage boys could get into such predicaments and how the novelist would ever manage to bring the book to a satisfying conclusion. Nelson doesn’t give readers a ‘happy ever after’ ending but does provide a logical and satisfying finale to a gripping and exciting story.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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