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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Louis Undercover, written by Fanny Britt, translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou, and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. Groundwood Books, 2017. $ 19.95 ages 10 and up

"That's her, Billie.
She's a spectacled siren,
a rainstorm,
a chocolate fountain,
a silent queen.

Billie doesn't say much.
I think it's because she
feels so let down by
others that she loses
the ability to speak."

“Nothing anywhere in my life is simple.”

That line pretty much sums up Louis' life in the year and a half following the breakup of his parents' marriage. He is a keen observer of all that is happening as he and his young brother Truffle are transported back and forth from his mother's apartment in the city to the rural family home where his father remains. He knows his father drinks too much, and that drinking led to the problems that have separated the family. He knows his mother is scared, confused and sad. He knows he wants to take care of Truffle who doesn't fully grasp all that is happening in the family; he is too young yet and needs protection. The speech bubbles used for conversation between the two are engaging and informative.

His best friend Boris is a constant companion, giving advice that may not always be appropriate but supportive at every turn. I love their conversation while spying on ghost cop cars, and Boris' advice for Louis concerning the girl of his dreams, Billie. Louis admires everything about her, but cannot work up the courage to talk to her.

"Then she pushes her glasses
back on her nose.

Whenever she's upset, they slip down just
a bit. I'm the only one who's noticed - I hope
so anyway - because being the only one to see
her glasses slip is almost like being alone with her."

Poor Louis!

There is heartbreak, and there is hope. As Louis navigates and shares the complexities of a family struggling to find a new path, and the overwhelming ache of first love, he grows and changes. His voice is remarkably authentic, and his story is one of bravery in the face of obstacles. Of being brave, he says that it is “not much to do with manliness and lots to do with danger.” He faces it head on, and we are better for knowing him and his struggles.

Isabelle Arsenault uses pencil and ink to create her remarkable illustrations for this absorbing graphic novel. Using variety in color as Louis navigates the events in his life, she moves from somber grays with smears of black when he is angry and hints of blue when he is less worried, to bright washes of yellow whenever Billie is in sight. Readers will pore over each page, the conversations shown in speech bubbles, the touching impact of each scene.

Emotional and stunning, this book is about family, tenacity, divorce, alcoholism, and ultimately about the power of love to heal and uplift.

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