A review a day: <i>Resistance</i> Book 1

It's Book 1 of the series! Does that mean you should wait until more come out? We shall see, shan't we?

First Second Books seems to have a thing for books about kids battling Nazis, and this and yesterday's entry, City of Spies, both came out on the same day about a month ago. It's just like Marvel releasing all of their X-books on the same day instead of spreading them out over the course of a month. Yeah, that's exactly what it's like. Um ... anyway, Resistance is written by Carla Jablonski, drawn by Leland Purvis, and colored by Hilary Sycamore.

It retails for $16.99 and it's 123 pages long. Such cold stats, but they must be conveyed!

Resistance is the tale of French people living in Vichy in 1942 who decide to fight back against the Nazis, especially as the Germans are beginning to move into the ostensibly "free" area of France and impose their will. Against this backdrop, Paul and Marie Tessier begin to realize that all is not right in their town and that they need to do something to resist the Nazis. It begins small, as a Jewish family whose son is friends with Paul disappears. Paul and Marie find the son, Henri, who doesn't know his parents are gone yet, and they decide to hide him because he's their friend. This action leads them into deeper and deeper waters of resistance, until they're full-fledged rebel fighters, heading off to Paris to find Henri's parents (who might not be dead). The local resistance fighters reason, correctly as it turns out, that the Nazis will be less suspicious of children, so they take the harrowing journey into the lion's den to deliver their messages. Jablonski does a good job building tension with each page, but as this is a kid-friendly book, it never gets too terrifying. She doesn't shy away from pointing out that the Nazis were targeting Jews, but she also doesn't get too much into it. If kids read this, it's a good way to introduce them to Nazism without making it too heavy on them.

Paul, Marie, and Henri briefly talk about the fact that the Nazis don't like Jews, but Jablonski also makes it clear that they didn't like very many people. They were, after all, Nazis.

Where Jablonski does a really good job is with the tense atmosphere of Vichy France as long-time neighbors slowly turned on each other. Early in the book, a girl tells another kid that she'll denounce him because he threw a bucket of water on her. This is a petty thing, of course, and it's something that kids say all the time, but under the Nazis and their collaborators, it has a chilling ring to it. As the book progresses, Paul and Marie become more and more adept at hiding their feelings, because they fear not only the petty people, but the ones who are genuinely terrified and want nothing more than to deflect attention from themselves. Jablonski also does a good job with the kids' friendships, as Marie becomes interested in Judaism and Henri tells her what he knows. Marie tries to make him comfortable as he hides out on their family's vineyard, because she knows that he's frightened enough about the fate of his parents.

It's a good way of showing how desperately these people were trying to live normal lives in a completely abnormal situation. It also makes the trip north to Paris that much more gripping, because Jablonski has done a nice job making these characters interesting and real to the reader, so we feel a knot in our stomachs whenever they're in a tight situation, even though we're fairly sure nothing is going to happen to them.

Purvis is a pretty good artist, and this is the first time I've seen his stuff in color, where it works better than in black and white. He doesn't do anything really spectacular, but his rough style suits the rural setting of the 1940s pretty well. Paul likes to sketch, and Purvis does a nifty trick - he inserts Paul's sketches into the narrative at certain points to get across more abstract ideas. The book actually begins with some of Paul's sketches, as he draws a smoke-black monster spreading slowly across the landscape. When he wants to show something ugly in a person's character, he reverts to sketches - when the girl talks of denouncing the other kid, we get a sketch of her face twisted into something much darker than her outward appearance. Later, Purvis shows Paul sketching a grenade landing on the girl and blowing her up - his inner desires coming out on paper. It's a nice device and Purvis doesn't overdo it - in fact, he could have used it a bit more in the second half of the book, when the kids make their journey to Paris. He does it a few times, but it doesn't have as much of an impact.

At one point a Nazi rips up Paul's drawings, so I suppose Purvis is making the point that once Paul, Marie, and Henri enter Occupied France, they can't even express themselves through sketching - they must remain blank slates if they're to accomplish their mission.

Resistance actually tells a complete story, which is nice. I don't know if Jablonski plans to return to Paul and Marie and tell single-book adventures with them, or if she did that here just to entice readers. As it's "book 1," I imagine she has more ideas to share, so we'll see what her plans are. Like City of Spies yesterday, Resistance is definitely all-ages, in the best possible way - it's a good book for kids but doesn't shy away from tough topics that makes it more adult-oriented. And like City of Spies, it tells the story of World War II in a few ways we don't often see - from a kid's perspective and from the perspective of people who weren't on the front lines, but nevertheless did what they could to fight the Nazis. It's a good story with good art, and if you're at all interested in war stories, you should give this a look.

Tomorrow: I'm still wrapping my head around it, but it's weird.

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