Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Resistance, Volume 2: Defiance
Written by Carla Jablonski; Illustrated by Leland Purvis
First Second; $16.99
I have fond memories of reading the first volume of Resistance. I was on a road trip with my family last year and took it with me to read in the car along with First Second’s other kids-vs-nazis book, City of Spies. I couldn’t help but be struck by the different approaches each creative team took to their similar subject matter. City of Spies is a romping adventure book while Resistance looks seriously at the reality of what opposing the Germans must have been like for children. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition and I loved both approaches so much that in comparing the two I missed some other themes, at least in Resistance. I may have missed some in City of Spies too, but reading the second volume of Resistance all by itself has allowed me to see aspects of it that go deeper than just “boy, it must have been scary for kids in those days.”
There were several themes that I expected to find in Defiance: freedom, loyalty, courage; stuff like that. What I was surprised by was a strong message that hit closer to home than those lofty ideals: relationships – especially family ones – and how incredibly hard they are. It’s difficult to live with other people – even ones that you love – and balance the variety of needs and priorities that come with several people sharing their lives. Traditional family roles can help with that (for good or ill), but what happens when your country is occupied by invading forces and everything you know and are familiar with has been turned upside down if not completely destroyed? As a mother whose husband has been taken by the Germans to work in their labor camps, how do you balance the needs of your children with the demands of putting food on the table, especially when those very Germans are extorting your livelihood for their needs?
There’s so much going on in the life of poor Mme. Tessier that it’s tempting to focus on her, but this isn’t her story. Mostly it’s Paul’s, her only son, but also it’s Paul’s sisters, teenaged Sylvie and young Marie. Though not quite a teenager himself, Paul struggles with what it means to be the man of the family; balancing that responsibility with his passion for undermining the Germans’ control on his town any way that he can. He’s not doing a very good job of it though. It’s too much to ask of a young boy and helping the Resistance is getting in the way of supporting his mom, especially when he learns that the militant Maquis are camped in the woods nearby. Joining them would mean making a real difference; much more dramatic than drawing propaganda posters and distributing flyers.
Little Marie also struggles, though her needs are simpler. Her birthday’s coming up and she wants her dad home. She also wants to believe that Philippe Pétain, Chief of State of “Free” France has the country’s best interests at heart. Though Pétain is collaborating with the Germans and encouraging the people to do so too, it’s a sentiment shared by much of the town, including Marie’s teachers and her Aunt Celia who’s now living with the Tessier family. It’s another level of tension because it’s easy to understand the desire to hunker down and hope this all eventually blows over. Paul disagrees of course and argues with Marie about it constantly.
Sylvie’s caught too between reality and the desire to be a normal teenager. The boy she really likes is in the Resistance and only seems interested in using her to get information from German soldiers. Sadly, the only opportunity she has to go out and have a good time is to fraternize with the Germans, something she’s conflicted about. More than either of her siblings, Sylvie’s on the fence between rebelling against her country’s weak leadership and simply accepting The Way Things Are like Aunt Celia.
There are plenty of thrills and suspense in Defiance, but it’s the family drama that sticks with me longest after closing the book. And it’s that that has me most eager to finish the trilogy when the next volume comes out. After all, I can’t turn around in a comic book store – or even my own home library – without hitting thrills and suspense. But there’s only one place to get the story of the Tessiers.