Small Acts of Defiance

Written by Michelle Wright
Review by Eileen Charbonneau

This first novel tells the story of teenage, Australian-born Lucie, who immigrates to Paris with her mother, Yvonne, in 1940. Facing destitution, Yvonne turns to Gérard, her estranged brother, who’s living there after his own tragedies. Lucie soon forms a deep and abiding friendship with Aline, Aline’s Jewish family, and their circle, including artists, students and a maternity doctor. Their politics are very different from that of Uncle Gérard, a World War I veteran who has a soldier’s faith in Marshal Pétain’s government. Soon Lucie begins using her artistic skills to aid her friends in their efforts against the Nazi occupation of Paris.

The war drags on, bringing deprivations, crackdowns on demonstrations, and deportations of the Jewish population. Lucie’s involvement with the resistance deepens as she takes a job at a cinema, passing notes as well as selling tickets. She even borrows her uncle’s truck to smuggle Jewish babies from the maternity hospital to safety. One by one, the friends who nurtured her new life in Paris are arrested and disappear.

Although the first 50 pages suffer from a bloodless slowness and the writing remains choppy, once its pace picks up, Small Acts of Defiance becomes a compelling story of homefront heroics. It follows the birth of Lucie’s moral conscience as she comes of age over a terrifying time. The love Lucie develops for Paris and its imperfect people is beautifully rendered. A promising debut novel.