Wednesday, April 14, 2010

An Interesting Read, But...

The Death-Defying Pepper Roux is another book I picked up simply because I like the author. Geraldine McCaughrean wrote Peter Pan in Scarlet, which I liked a great deal, and I was impressed by Not the End of the World. The Death-Defying Pepper Roux is a rewarding read for a McCaughrean fan. It has a fascinating premise and is beautifully written. I just don't know how kids will feel about it.

Pepper Roux is the story of a fourteen-year-old boy who has been brought up believing that he is going to die on his fourteenth birthday. (There was a Sleeping Beauty aspect to the story, I thought.) He's a good child and has accepted his fate--until the last minute when he tries to escape the notice of the angels and Saint Constance, who he believes are out to get him. The book might be described as picaresque except that Pepper is innocent rather than roguish. He moves from one improbable situation to another where his basic goodness always comes out. The escapades are not over-the-top enough to be funny, but too over-the-top to be believable. For instance, one character is a crossing-dressing ship's steward. I loved the guy, but it's hard to believe he could have existed in the time and place in which he's been dropped down.

Speaking of time and place, the time setting is vague, which could confuse young readers. It might be the 1950s, since there's a chapter about the French Foreign Legion recruiting soldiers to send to Africa, which I think would have been happening post- World War II. (This indicates that I find the time setting confusing, at least.) It's set in France and is quite...French...with the significance of Pepper's name hanging on the similarities in pronunciation of pauvre and poivre. It's also quite Catholic, with bored priests hearing confessions and nuns' habits being stolen. Hey, a French, Catholic book is just fine with me, and I like to think those aspects of Pepper Roux make it a unique read. But, once again, I don't know how kids will feel about it.

So what we're talking about here is an intriguing, unusual book that may be for more sophisticated child readers.

Plot Project: Now some people might say that this book is about a child who wants to live and that the writer just put in obstacles to his living. I don't think so. I think this book is all about the situation--the child who believes he is doomed but isn't. I think this is obvious to the reader, especially since in many of the episodes Pepper could be said to be in trouble of some sort, but not in danger of losing his life. The plot isn't really causal, by the way. One episode doesn't lead to another, though there are plenty of recurring threads that get picked up along the way.

Training Report: 1,350 words, which is damn fine when you consider that over my last three work days (last Wednesday, Friday, and Monday) I might have just broken 1,000 altogether. I finally was able to do a very small amount of research for another book, and I have a submission ready to go out tomorrow.

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