Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Death-Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean

death“On the morning of his fourteenth birthday, Pepper had been awake for fully two minutes before realizing it was the day he must die.” This is the opening line of the rip-roaring adventure awaiting the “le pauvre” (poor thing) –Pepper Roux. Pepper and those around him, his parents and aunt, had known since the day he was born that he was not to live beyond his fourteenth birthday. Everyone was resigned to it, even Pepper. The night before he was born, Pepper’s spinster aunt Mireille had a dream of St. Constance, who told her, “in perfect diction,” that Pepper Roux was to die by fourteen. To make sure that Pepper would indeed be going to heaven, his aunt and mother made him go to church and pray all day, every day, on his calloused knees, making sure he was truly sorry for whatever "wrongdoings" he had committed since the last time he prayed. His Aunt Mireille filled his pockets with prayers and messages to give to the saints and family members in heaven. But when the day came for Pepper to die, he, in fact, did not die. He did not want to disappoint, but in truth, Pepper wanted to live. He wondered how this could happen: had he somehow sidestepped fate, shaken off the saints that were to capture him and whisk him away to heaven? He did not know, but felt like an intruder in life, an escapee, and that at any moment the angels and saints would realize their mistake and come after him in a flourish of fire and ice. But even so, when given the opportunity, Pepper sought out a life not his own. His attempts to slip into other peoples’ shoes propelled him all over France and from one life to the next. He donned the Sea Captain hat of his father, the apron of a butcher's assistant in a fancy department store, as well as stepping into the life of a horse trainer, newspaper writer, telegram deliverer, juvenile delinquent and many more. Through each of these misadventures Pepper was a bit naive, always seeing the best in others and too trusting of some unsavory characters. In every life he led he inadvertently caused mayhem while trying his best to spread joy and goodness in the depraved lives he saw around him. Yet Pepper knew too well that Death was after him. Ultimately, Pepper (with the help of a few surprising friends) came to learn to finally face his own death, and that things and people are not always what they seem. Pepper Roux is one extraordinary character –unforgettable, and the kind of person you would want to know in real life. You want Pepper to succeed and overcome the obstacles in front of him; you also want to protect him from the danger around him. This is a wonderfully crafted story filled with plenty of adventures. It's a book that once finished is not easy to leave behind. I also must suggest checking out the audiobook version of this story, narrated by Anton Lesser. Mr. Lesser brings the characters to life with such vibrancy and articulates the French words with flavor. Ms. McCaughrean’s sentences twist and turn and are filled with humor and wit; Lessen brings this humor to light in an incredible way that helps the story break out from the pages. Review by Lizzy Healy

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