I recently devoured a trilogy of young adult graphic novels written by Carla Jablonski and illustrated by Leland Purvis set in Nazi-occupied France during World War II.
The trilogy opens with Resistance, which is set in a small French village in 1942 in what once was the free zone but is no longer. The books are mainly about the Tessier children: Paul, an artist whose drawings capture everything he sees and take on a great importance; Marie, who is curious and meddling like a typical younger sister; and Sylvie, his older sister, who seems flighty and boy-crazy but has a depth no one expects.
Their father is a prisoner of war, but the family is faring well, all things considered. But when the Germans start taking away the local Jews, including the parents of Paul’s best friend, Henri, the siblings realize it is time to take a stand. Helped by a worker in the family vineyard, Jacques, the Tessiers join the Resistance in an effort to keep Henri safe.
In the second book, Defiance, Paul continues his work with the Resistance and papers the village with drawings that mock the Germans and the Milice (French military police). He becomes infuriated as the Germans steal from his family and send French men to work in German factories, and his aunt cavorts with the Germans in exchange for food and other comforts.
His sisters also must do some soul searching, with Marie questioning the propaganda fed to her at school and Sylvie asked to cozy up to a German soldier to obtain information. It becomes harder and harder for them to know who to trust and to keep their work a secret.
In the final book, Victory, set after the D-Day invasion in 1944, Paul’s drawings finally land him in hot water with the Milice, but he finds resisters in the most shocking places. Sylvie’s feelings for a German soldier grow complicated, Paul must deal with the impact of his resistance work on innocent civilians, and Marie shows her mettle when she cares for a wounded soldier carrying an important message from General de Gaulle. Paul takes on his most dangerous mission yet, just as Paris is on the brink of liberation.
I tried to savor these books, but I ended up flying through them in a couple of hours. The story worked well in the graphic novel format, though of course, things were simplified a bit as a result. Still, there was much to like about these books, especially how they were presented for younger readers. Each book begins and ends with an author’s note explaining what things were like for the French people under the occupation.
Jablonski puts the spotlight on the important contributions of children to the Resistance and how they were recruited because they were not as likely to be noticed or suspected. She emphasizes their bravery, as well as their impulsiveness and the difficulty they had in keeping secrets. What struck me the most as I read was how these children and teens had a burning desire to fight against the injustices they witnessed and experienced in their homes and villages, and they weren’t expected to act, but they did.
The books also touch on the tensions among neighbors, friends, and even family. Those resisting feared being caught, and those who collaborated in some cases did so not because they supported the Nazis but because they wanted to survive the war. Both sides did what they felt they had to do. Many people claimed after the war to have been part of the Resistance, that they worked against the Germans even while appearing to help them. And in some cases, people falsely accused their neighbors of collaborating.
The war and its aftermath were confusing for the French who lived so many years in fear, but Jablonski highlights the many who rose above their fear to fight for their freedom while also showing the infighting among the Resistance groups. The illustrations by Purvis are rich and expressive, bringing the characters, the setting, and the tensions to life. I highly recommend the Resistance trilogy to adults and middle-grade readers alike, as it perfectly captures an important and chaotic period in history and, even in the graphic novel format, conveys the complexities of the characters and their situations.
Disclosure: I borrowed Resistance, Defiance, and Victory from the public library.
© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.