cover image The Young Inferno

The Young Inferno

John Agard, , illus. by Satoshi Kitamura. . Frances Lincoln, $19.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-84507-769-3

British poet Agard pulls off the formidable task of modernizing Dante's 14th-century Inferno for a teenage audience. This heavily illustrated version features a young black protagonist (wearing a hoodie emblazoned with the word Hell) who travels to the underworld with fable master Aesop as his guide. He encounters sinners of a contemporary variety, as the streetwise narrative echoes the format and rhyme scheme of the original “He caused a child's death in a stolen car./ But did he stop? No. And that's because/ he had drunk himself over the limit by far.” Agard also offers commentary critical of modern politicians and events. In Hell's Seventh Circle, readers find “that smooth duo who caused much blood to flow/ between the Tigris and Euphrates” (unmistakable are the silhouettes of President Bush and Prime Minister Blair). Kitamura's edgy illustrations, rendered in black, white and grays, jump from the page. Cutouts, geometric motifs and cartoon-styling create a youth-friendly yet still-haunting effect. While this fresh take will be most appreciated by those familiar with Dante's work, its potential to ignite curiosity about the original should not be underestimated. Ages 11–13. (July)