Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Resistance, Book 1
Written by Carla Jablonski; Illustrated by Leland Purvis
First Second; $16.99
If you’d asked me last week what’s cooler than robots fighting Nazis or demons fighting Nazis or bullwhip-wielding archeologists fighting Nazis, I would’ve been hard up for an answer. Imagine my surprise to learn that children fighting Nazis does the trick quite nicely.
I love the cover to Resistance, Book 1. The child’s slingshot aimed squarely at the back of a German soldier’s head says everything you need to know about the book. It’s a fun, cute image – an act of childishly brave defiance against a universally recognized evil – but as you continue to look at it, you realize how foolhardy that act is and a feeling of dread sets in. That’s an SS soldier the kid’s about to shoot. As adorable as the picture is, the anticipated consequences are horrifying. Which pretty much sums up this story about a group of French kids who join the Resistance against occupying Germany in WWII. It’s at the same time heart-warmingly endearing and upsettingly dreadful.
Though there are moments to make you chuckle, Resistance is a drama before it’s anything else. There’s some inherent cuteness that goes along with having kids as heroes, but the kids in this book are cute because they’re real. Which makes the danger to them that much more awful.
Join the Resistance after the break.
Paul Tessier has a typical relationship with his little sister Marie. He loves her in a pinch, but mostly she gets on his nerves by hanging around with his friends, including a Jewish boy named Henri. They live in “Free” France, but as the Germans become more and more prevalent, the country feels less and less at liberty. Paul and Marie’s father has already gone missing and the Jews are growing increasingly uncomfortable. “I’ll denounce you,” has become a horrifyingly potent taunt on the playground.
Resistance’s power is in its ability to balance this horror with the innocence of its main characters. Since the kids behave like kids, everything is intensified and emotions are heightened. They’re guileless, but that makes it hard to keep secrets. They can be petty one minute and fiercely loyal the next. I mean, kids fighting Nazis. It’s a thrilling concept until you realize how incredibly dangerous it is. What’s amazing is that Jablonski and Purvis never flinch from keeping you right in the middle of that tension.
When Henri’s parents go missing, Paul and Marie decide to hide their friend. Then, when they discover that they know someone in the French Resistance, they realize that they’re already involved in their own way and begin helping to pass information. After all, the Germans would never expect two little kids to be spies. They get pulled in deeper and deeper this way until finally they find themselves on a trip to Paris, deep in the heart of Occupied France. I don’t want to reveal details, but Jablonski’s script is entirely plausible. Which again makes it that much more tense to read.
Because of the story’s realism, Purvis’ ability to bring war-torn France to life is especially invaluable. Not only does the countryside look and feel lived in, but his characters all have emotional honesty that sells the adventure. When they’re contemplating being caught by the Germans, they look terrified. When they’re playing, they look gleeful. And there are a thousand other emotions in between, each wonderfully captured by the artist.
All of which has captivated me. I wouldn’t want to live in the place and time that these characters do, but I also can’t stay away. When the second volume comes out, I’ll be anxiously waiting to spend more time with these kids and their fascinatingly complex lives.
Five out of five underground freedom fighters.