If you’re wondering who Resistance: Book 1 is for, look no further than the quote on the back cover by creator Carla Jablonski’s fellow young adult author Jane Yolen, who knows what she’s talking about because she wrote The Devil’s Arithmetic. We’re informed. Resistance is certainly one for the kids–but that’s a potentially more valuable piece of young adult literature than even Yolen’s novel
The Devil’s Arithmetic involves a bored, modern-day Jewish girl being magically transported from her family’s seder to Poland in 1942, where she lives through the horrors of the Holocaust. The time travel bit bothered me when I read it as a kid because our heroine has the privilege of returning to her own time at the end. While she learns her lesson about the importance of being educated about one’s past (albeit in a curiously sadistic way), there’s still a weird sense of distance in knowing that your character can get ushered into a gas chamber but easily go back to playing Contra after all’s said and done.
Elie Wiesel would be ashamed of y’all.
Jablonski sets her story in a French village but, thankfully, doesn’t include any time travel in Resistance. Instead, she uses less fantastical tricks, like verisimilitude, to help us identify with the characters. The main character, Paul, is a child who draws pretty much everything around him–bullies, SS officers on the train–often adding his own flourishes as a kid would often do (such as grenades cartoonishly causing people to explode, or monsters attacking villages).
Being a kid in the so-called “Free” area of Southern France, Paul has problems hanging over his head like storm clouds. His dad has been taken prisoner by Germany, and his best friend, Henri, is Jewish and ripe to be carted away by the Nazis at any moment. Naturally, Paul and his sister, Marie, help Henri hide out, and they begin to find themselves working as valuable agents of the French Resistance.
Resistance has all the right trappings for a kid-friendly book, featuring the major elements in kid life–best friends, siblings, parents, disapproving authority figures, and the hostile mean kids–which isn’t to say that Jablonski downplays the threat of the Nazis. At this point in the story, the Nazis are just burgeoning as a direct influence on the kids. That Jablonski nails the major parts of any kid’s life gives greater weight to the historical elements. A book about kids taking part in the French Resistance would mean nothing if Jablonski couldn’t depict that feeling of wanting to stick with your best friend.
Leland Purvis draws the entire book in a style that’s a bit sketchier than his perfectly expressive Web comic Vulcan and Vishnu. There’s a certain preciseness to his work on Vulcan and Vishnu–perhaps due to its silent black and whiteness–that the dialogue-heavy, full-color Resistance doesn’t have.
Perhaps, there are too many cooks in the kitchen on Resistance, or maybe he’s bending his art to some perceived First Second house style. However, you can still see Purvis’s amazing knack for acting, and his renditions of Paul’s pencil sketches are surprisingly warm–like frames drawn by Disney animators (the ones that you see transform from pencil to full-color animation in the Making of features).
To further enliven the art, colorist Hilary Sycamore uses a wide-but-grounded palette. While the world of Resistance is in grays, browns, and jackbooted blacks, Sycamore wisely colors the kids’ clothes in blues, greens, pinks, and reds–the sort of colors children would actually be seen in.
It’s all pretty solid and wrapped in one of the best covers I’ve seen in a while, with a near-iconic image of a slingshot aimed at the back of an SS soldier’s head, but there’s a glaring problem to this release: Resistance: Book 1 is the first part of a trilogy. This first volume ends as its getting started and, while it’s the standard length of most First Second releases, the fragmented nature defeats the purpose of the book.
Resistance has the makings of a good bit of kiddie lit–classroom fare that history-minded teachers could assign to kids alongside Number the Stars–but only if they get the whole story. If First Second is smart, they’ll compile all three volumes when the thing is complete.