An Abundance of Books's Reviews > Lily Renee, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer

Lily Renee, Escape Artist by Trina Robbins
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Aug 10, 2011

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bookshelves: graphic-novels-manga, middle-grades-non-fiction
Read on August 11, 2011

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Lily Renee, Escape Artist is divided into eight chapters based on significant times in Lily's life. The book also includes a glossary and additional information on some of the different events mentioned. There is also a two page spread of Lily's personal photographs which is a very nice touch. Robbins has an awesome story to work with, but I think the story suffered under page number constraints and unnecessary simplification for the target audience.

Lily grew up in a wealthy Austrian family and the Nazis did completely change her life. The Nazi party stole from them, limited their freedoms, took her father's job, their friends and neighbors turned on the family, and Jewish refugees from across Austria were crammed into the Wilheim home by the Nazis. (Apparently this happened to all Jewish families who lived in Vienna.) This part of the story was pretty well written and age appropriate. the Kindertransport chapter was also very good but got tripped up towards the end. The chapter on Lily's experiences in England was very interesting. While many children didn't speak English, some, like Lily, had studied it in school and had assumed they would have no problems communicating. Unfortunately, speaking with the British was a lot different from speaking with a teacher who spoke slowly and used textbook English. Robbins did a good job of showing that the children not only had to deal with a new language but also different customs, currency, and culture. At one point Lily is classified as an "enemy alien" and has to report to a police station every week. Just when she finds out her parents are alive and she can join them in New York, the British government starts sending enemy aliens to internment camps. There was a jumble of events where she goes into hiding, but then turns herself into the police, spends the night in jail, is released by a friendly stranger, and makes it to the boat on time. While there was some really interesting information in here and it's a very scary time for Lily, this section of the story was just not told very well. Too many events were glossed over or never fully explained. It felt like story was being shortchanged in an attempt to maintain momentum and keep the story accessible to it's audience. There are parts where I know a younger reader is going to go to an adult and say, "I don't understand, what just happened?" But it will be evident to kids that Lily lived through difficult times and I think they will appreciate her refusal to give up.

Once Lily is reunited with her parents life is still hard but the narrative flows a bit more smoothly. It's really neat how Lily stumbled into to comic book work (the pay was too good to pass up) and eventually was in charge of her own books. Most of her characters were strong women, excelling in a man's world, and helping to defeat the Nazis. The only thing that disappoints me about this section is that it's never mentioned how hard Lily had to work and fight to keep that job. She put up with a lot of sexual harassment and cried herself to sleep at night. Now I realize that this might be challenging to explain in a universally appropriate manner to the late elementary/middle grades audience, but I'm sure something could have been added to explain that Lily didn't just work hard to move up in the ranks but also fought against a hostile work environment.

Lily Renee's story is a fascinating one and one that I think kids will enjoy. But because of some of the problems with the narrative I don't think it's worth purchasing. If it sounds like something that might interest your child, I would suggest picking this one up from the library and be prepared to explain some things. I give it three stars because I think it's a story that kids will be interested in and ultimately like, but they'll have to put some effort into it.

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