Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Death-Defying Pepper Roux

Mccaughrean, Geraldine. 2010. The Death-Defying Pepper Roux. New York: Harper Collins.

Like all of us, Paul Roux is born to die, however, unlike most people, Paul Roux knows when he will die - on his fourteenth birthday.  Upon his birth, Paul's Aunt Mireille receives a message from Saint Constance.  Pepper will die at fourteen.  So, while other children are attending school, making friends, and preparing for adulthood, the young Paul is attending Mass, making daily penance and preparing for  Last Rites.  His resigned mother, Madame Roux, so often refers to him as "mon pauvre" my poor thing, that local children mistake his name for "poivre," or Pepper.  All of this is accepted, of course.  Saint Constance decreed it to be so.  Aunt Mireille reminds them so. It must be so.

But on his fourteenth birthday, Pepper suddenly realizes that he doesn't feel like going to his eternal rest. The saints will be looking for him.  But suppose they can't find Pepper Roux?

After all, "People see what they expect to see.  Don't they?"

Captain Roux? Yes, I am Captain Roux.
Here is a placard.  Yes, I am a protestor.
Do you work here? Yes, I am the meat slicer.
You've worked for a newspaper? Yes, I am Pepper Papier.
You are a delivery boy?  Yes, I am Konstantin Kruppe.
Good day, dear.  I am home.

And so, the doomed Pepper steps from one life into another, and another, and another.  And though Saint Constance is seeking to harvest him, Pepper's quick-thinking and earnestness keep him one step ahead of his judgement day.

The Death-Defying Pepper Roux is an exciting tale of adventure; some of the lives into which Pepper deposits himself are less than savory ones!  But Pepper is never dispirited, never bitter; and his various predicaments are often humorously improbable - he is by turns a grizzled sea captain, a grocer's boy, a reporter, a fugitive on the run, a hard-drinking husband, a soldier in the French Foreign Legion - all before his 15th birthday!

The Death-Defying Pepper Roux is also, improbably, a deep philosophical novel about faith, family, honesty, destiny and friendship.  Pepper's unlikely friend Duchesse, is a funny and colorful addition to the story - a strong and seaworthy steward, taken to dispensing valuable advice and wearing women's clothing.

A rousing and rollicking read that should be popular with kids and teens.  A book that begs to be read twice.  Move over Despereaux, here comes another French hero who will win reader's hearts!

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