Lily Renée Wilhelm was a young girl when Austria was invaded by Nazi Germany, her life story provides a fascinating glimpse of the changes and struggles that many people faced during these tragic and dramatic times. Her family had been well off, but as the Nazis rose to power her whole life changed, she was fortunate to find an escape on a Kindertransport to England, though her parents stayed behind. Once there, though she was poorly treated by her sponsor family, which led her to take a number of jobs. When England declared war on the Nazis, she was classified as an Enemy Alien and required to report to the government. She worked as a nurse during the Blitz. At this point the government began to crack down more on these “enemy aliens” and started rounding them up, Lily tries to escape but eventually turns herself in. She’s fortunate that her parents have escaped to America and she is allowed to join them there. Once there she finds that her parents have grown old struggling under Nazi rule and Lily takes a huge variety of roles to support her family. Fashion model, pieceworker, catalog artist, and eventually becomes a comic book artist.
Lily’s life was fascinating, and a good fit for children who want to learn about the period. Nothing TOO bad happens to her, her parents live, she escapes Austria and England. In Lily Renée, Escape Artist the story is told in graphic novel format. The art is evocative of the era, capturing the spirit of the age and the terror of Lily’s experiences. Unfortunately, the narrative of the story really fails to bring the story to life in that it doesn’t always match the format. The appeal of a graphic novel biography is that it brings the action and drama of the figure to life, and the actions they took and experiences they had are visually depicted. However, this book reads like a non-graphic novel biography superimposed upon the graphic novel format. There is a lot of tell and not as much show, which makes it hard to see Lily as a real character. It is a fine balance, to provide information while still telling a story, and certainly this book succeeds at providing enough information to show that there are great stories in Lily’s life. It also leaves the reader wanting those stories, wanting that closer knowledge and personal connection. If I couldn’t get more stories, I wanted more facts. I’d never heard about the British detainees, and would have loved to learn more, and see pictures and some of the newspapers they said they wrote.While not a perfect biography, I still think that the story of Lily Renée is compelling enough to draw reluctant readers into her world. Hopefully, we will find more biographies of fascinating characters like this.