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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Rooftoppers, written by Katherine Rundell. Simon & Schuster, 2013. $9.99 ages 10 and up

"On the way back, she ran - ran, properly, not a jog. Her heart was beating so fast that it was nudging against her bones. The wind pulled at her clothes and hair, but she stayed steady. She thought, This is how heaven must feel. She felt as confident as a crow. Say what you will against crows, Sophie thought, they do look like they know what they're doing."

Finding Sophie floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel changes the course of Charles Maxim's life forever...and for better. She's a baby, he's a young scholar; together, they find happiness and love. It's an interesting beginning to a young life, and foreshadows a rather unconventional future for Sophie.

Growing up in Charles' home is a revelation. Sophie learns to love music, to read the works of William Shakespeare, and to grow with little knowledge of a genteel, ladylike world. When she is twelve, the powers that be determine Charles is not a suitable guardian for the young girl. They make the arbitrary decision to put her in an orphanage, for her own good. Sophie is not happy, nor is George.

"She didn't want to touch the letter. She dropped it, and stood on it. Then she picked it  up and read it again. She couldn't bear that "absolutely unsuitable." "Do you think if I'd worn skirts? And if I didn't slouch? Or if I was prettier? Or, I don't know, sweeter? Would they have let me stay?" Charles shook his head. She was astonished to see that he was silently weeping."

A clue to the maker of her cello on its case gives Charles and Sophie the incentive they need to rush off to Paris to find her mother, before the authorities can snatch her away from the only father she has known. Once in Paris, they remain fugitives. Their quest to find information about the sinking ship and her mother are thwarted by a cover-up and Sophie finds herself looking to the rooftops of Paris for solace. Wanting to keep her safe from harm, Charles goes in search of help to find her mother and wants Sophie to stay safe in her hotel room.

A nighttime visit from Matteo offers a chance to see Paris from a different perspective. He is a boy who lives his life on the rooftops, and becomes her guide to adventure. He shows her the ropes literally, and never descends from his home above Paris streets.  In fact, he doesn't ever want his feet to touch the streets; they are too dangerous. Through Matteo, Sophie also meets Anastasia and Safi, two young girls who live their lives in Parisian treetops. It is on one of her nighttime journeys with Matteo that Sophie hears the cello music that she hopes will lead to her mother.

What an adventure this is! Readers will be hard-pressed to put it down once they have opened it pages. It is elegantly written, emotional, sometimes terrifying (for those who have any fear of heights and looking down), and always compelling. In 'never ignoring a possible', Sophie lets love and hope guide her.  

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