Holocaust Memorial Day, it seemed kind of appropriate here. So I'm looking at the three books that form the Resistance series by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis. Though it debuted in 2010, the last of the books came out in the middle of last year.
The books take place in a small town in southern France after the country has been occupied by German forces. While there's no actual fighting taking place in the town, they definitely feel the effects of the war; food and clothing are re-appropriated to soldiers before it even gets to the town, what's made locally is frequently siezed, and Jews are being rounded up and herded off to camps. But the townspeople try to carry on with their lives as best as they can.
The three books focus primarily on Paul and his family. Paul's a young teenager; his father has been captured as a POW and his mother is trying desperately to keep the family vinyard in tact. At the outset, he's against the war mostly in general terms, but he becomes more and more upset about it, and even starts getting to the point of militant, as he sees more and more of his friends vanish. It's when his friend Henri's parents go missing that he begins taking an active role. As the books continue, we see how Paul and some of the others try to fight back against the Germans in their own ways and, almost as importantly, decide who to trust.
Wars are often depicted, both in news and entertainment, in a fairly simplistic manner. You're either a good guy or a bad guy; you're for us or against us. Possibly with the occasional self-serving opportunitist trying to play both sides. In the Resistance books, though, there is most definitely not a black and white set of arguements. Not so much in whether the French agreed with Hitler, but rather how they would best be served in disagreeing with him. Is it better to accept an occupation in the hopes that they wouldn't upset the Germans or, since they didn't have the resources to sustain a formal conflict, utilize guerilla tactics when they could to help the Allied forces that were coming? Was the retaliation from their covert efforts unleashed on innocent bystanders worth the lives that may have been saved because of the resistance's efforts?
Over the course of the three books (which can actually be read fairly independently) we see a pretty diverse range of thoughts and actions through Paul and his circle of friends/family. Everyone is coming to the table with a different set of values, and acting accordingly. Plus, we see several of those people re-examine their ideas throughout the course of the war. (The stories run from 1940 through 1945.)
It's easy to read the WWII histories that get into major battles or the holocaust. And to a lesser extent, in the US, we see some stories about people who weren't in Europe fighting, but trying to keep the home fires buring. Those are all good and valid stories. But what's not told nearly as often is what happened to the regular citizens in Europe who were right next door to Hitler's war machine. Not the folks in the trenches, but the people like Paul who were on the outskirts of the French countryside, largely removed from the day-to-day fighting, but still directly affected in a way that Americans never were. And that Jablonski and Purvis pull the story off with such nuance and subtlety makes Resistance that much more worthwhile.
The books are historical fiction. No doubt events similar to these occurred, but Paul didn't actaully exist. Paul is, I don't doubt, a bunch of little boys and girls rolled up into one character that represents them all. But, like any good story, the truths that come through in Resistance are more powerful than the fictions themselves.