Book Review: The Death-Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean

Best-selling children’s author Geraldine McCaughrean’s newest youth novel, The Death-Defying Pepper Roux, will be released in bookstores this month.

The story opens on the morning of Paul Roux’s fourteenth birthday.  Unfortunately, this was an ominous day for both Paul, otherwise known as Pepper, and his family because upon the day of his birth, Pepper’s Aunty had predicted that the poor boy would not live to see his fourteenth birthday.  Certain that the angels are after him for daring to outlive his fate, Pepper assumes the role of his seafaring Captain father and boards a ship headed to sea.  From there, Pepper dons a mish-mash of various identities and experiences adventures beyond measure.

Initially, I thought that the beginning of the story was a bit too cryptic.  It seemed to be comprised of a profusion of different assumptions cobbled together in a way that didn’t quite fit.  I kept waiting for an underlying thread to tie them all together.  I am pleased to report though that about halfway through the book, I was able to eventually suspend my disbelief and enjoy the flight of fancy that this story travels.  It is told with a rather surreal and dream-like quality, much like a fairy tale, where the traditional rules of reality do not always apply, and that is certainly part of its charm.

One thing that particularly appealed to me about the writing is that it was stylishly woven and intelligent.  It did not talk down to children, the way some youth books tend to do.  It allowed the reader’s imagination to fly free with the wholly original adventures of Pepper Roux.

Pepper himself took to climbing to the top of anything tall — hills, trees, roofs — to see if Death was riding toward him on a white horse, under a black banner or preceded by a pillar of fire.  He scanned the sky for angels sitting on the clouds, fishing for souls with perch rods; for fiery chariots descending to kidnap him.

Author Geraldine McCaughrean won the Michael L. Printz Award for her book, The White Darkness, and she is also author of the sequel to the Peter Pan adventures, Peter Pan in Scarlet.

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