Fanny Britt (text) and Isabelle Arsenault (illustrator), Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou (translators), Louis Undercover, Walker Books, April 2019, 160 pp., RRP $34.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781406378429
Have you ever wanted to hug a book? I’ve read plenty of books that have left me feeling wistful and empty when I closed them. You wish it would go on forever, you miss the characters. But this is the first book I think I’ve wanted to hug the whole way through. I sat and read the whole thing with a smile on my face. My cheeks were aching at the end. And, yes. I think I hugged it.
The strangest thing about my book-hugging is that this story features a family in the throes of divorce because Dad’s an alcoholic. It’s not a cheery theme. But it wasn’t a sympathy hug that was elicited from me. This book oozes warmth and hope, and it’s basically just plain cute!
This coming of age tale is told by Louis himself. He and his little brother, Truffle, live with their mum in the city but go back to their old house in the country to visit their dad. Louis is trying to find his way through growing up. He looks out for himself and his brother in a situation where the adults are loving but don’t always get things right. He has to navigate the highs and lows of family life as well as face normal teen troubles like trying to decide how to approach the girl of his dreams.
Louis Undercover is by the same creators as Jane, the Fox and Me, which won multiple awards. I liked this book better. It’s a graphic novel that just oozes understated beauty: Its words, its pace, its palette. They’re all simply beautiful. The illustrations are cartoonish, yet there is incredible power and storytelling in the characters’ expressions. There are scenes that drop you right back into the swirling confusion that is adolescence, but by far the most affecting scenes are the ones in which the parents are trying to convince the children, but the children can see straight through their brittle facades.
I want to read this book again and again for pleasure. It should be on teen reading lists for that reason, but also because it’s got social and emotional learning galore. It shows how hope, love and kindness can just simmer away when there’s hardship — and it shows the power of a beautiful, simple story.
Reviewed by Liz Patterson