Paul Tessier lives with his two sisters, Marie and Slyvie, and his mother in the free area of France during World War II. The rest of France is occupied by German soldiers, who are steadily entering the free area, rounding up Jews, and hunting out members of the Resistance. When Paul’s friend Henri gets accidentally left behind when his parents get taken, Paul hides him in their wine cellar. But the secret is hard to keep as the number of people who know Henri’s hiding place grows. Can Henri get out of France before the German’s find him?
By the subtitle and the open-ending, it seems that this is the first in a possible series. I have to admit though, the cover art is more intriguing than the story it contains. The cover features Paul aiming a slingshot (set apart from the rest of the cover with bright red elastic) at the back of a soldier’s head, which doesn’t happen in the book. The plot is less striking, imitating multiple other stories where Non-Jewish children help a Jewish child by hiding him away and sneaking him off to a safer area. I’ll admit there are details that intrigue, such as the trick with chocolate towards the very end. There are also scenes that steal your sympathy, most notably page 24 where Marie climbs into her older brother’s bed and he covers her with the comforter. But extreme close-ups of people’s faces make them look like exaggerated and distorted drama masks. The narrative is interspersed by Paul’s drawings, and while some of them make sense, others are just jarring to readers. There is a subplot involving Paul’s missing father that does not get explained at all, so you’re really not invested in his well-being. In my opinion, the most jarring scene on page 96 also gets glazed over, and loses the impact it could have had. The author’s notes at the beginning and the end of the book are informative, and provide the necessary background to understand and reflect on the story. If it’s your first exposure to Holocaust fiction, it works, but there are other options that would leave more of an impact.