Published November 1, 2011.
In 1938, Lily Renée Wilheim is a 14-year-old Jewish girl living in Vienna. Her days are filled with art and ballet. Then the Nazis march into Austria, and Lily’s life is shattered overnight. Suddenly, her own country is no longer safe for her or her family. To survive, Lily leaves her parents behind and travels alone to England. Escaping the Nazis is only the start of Lily’s journey. She must escape many more times—from servitude, hardship, and danger. Will she find a way to have her own sort of revenge on the Nazis? Follow the story of a brave girl who becomes an artist of heroes and a true pioneer in comic books. (netgalley.com)
I’m always amazed by the survival stories that come out of occupied Europe, and Lily Renee’s is no different. For such a young girl to have to leave home alone, travel to a foreign country where she barely knows the language and try to ride out the war, it’s amazing adults were able to do it, let alone a girl that was barely a teenager. But she did it and it really puts the trials in one’s life into perspective. Escaping from the Nazis, then from prejudiced English, traveling to America and then fighting adversity to become a pioneering name in comics kind of makes the daily grind of one’s life pale in comparison.
But she did it without a thought about it. It was survival mode and Lily did what she had to do to make it. The story is a simple one, told in simple language but it doesn’t need to be dressed up. The story itself is already grand. Flowery prose need not apply. Plus the illustrations to go along with it make it stand out all the more. As if you couldn’t picture Lily’s story in your head just from the words, the images were there to help. Rich and colorful and sometimes frightening, Robbins didn’t hold the story back and Timmons and Oh were relentless with the illustrations. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
Whereas something like MAUS, while amazing, is probably too graphic for a younger audience, LILY RENEE tells a realistic story without being gruesome so it makes it a little more easily digestible for a younger reader that might not be able to handle the images in like comics. It’ll make them see without making them see too much and it does it without sugarcoating. I’d like to see LILY RENEE, ESCAPE ARTIST in all classrooms as a teaching tool, it’s just that good. It’s just one of many stories coming out of that time and I’m glad it did. It shows a fight of will and of character and I think everyone should be reading stories like this, just to see what real survival is.
Ban Factor: Low – It’s a vanilla historical graphic novel free of swears and anything lewd. Unless banners are offended by the troubles of a young girl escaping Nazi-occupied Europe, they’re going to keep their grubby hands off of this one.