By Geraldine McCaughrean
Published by Oxford
ISBN 978 0 19 275602 2
Young Pepper Roux wakes up on his birthday feeling a bit strange. For the past 14 years, he has been told almost on a daily basis that he would die on his 14th birthday. How and why, he does not know, he just knows that today's the day.
Geraldine McCaughrean's The Death-Defying Pepper Roux is a witty, fast-moving story of an engaging teenager who suddenly becomes determined to escape his destiny. On the day he was born, Pepper's wise Aunt Mireille leaned over the cot and told her sister, Madame Roux, that her beautiful baby boy would die when he reached 14. The thoughtful aunt even bought Pepper a small grave plot in the local churchyard for his first birthday.
The Roux family never questioned Aunt Mireille's prediction - what she says always comes true - and the fact that Pepper is now a healthy and bright teenager has made no difference to their expectations.
But on the morning of his dreaded 14th birthday, Pepper realises that he rather likes life and decides to take fate into his own hands. He walks out of his home and away from his relatives, into the rest of his life.
As he is walking along the quayside down at the harbour, Pepper is mistaken for his father and taken on board a magnificent cargo vessel about to set sail. Pepper's father is the captain of the boat, and Pepper slips easily into Roux Snr's identity. This is the start of an exciting series of adventures for the boy who thought he was about to die.
A sequence of surreal and life-affirming events is set in motion that will see our young hero survive a shipwreck, sell sausages in the deli section of a big department store, get involved with criminals, set himself up as a journalist who only wants to write about good news, and thwart a gang of horse butchers.
The cartoon-like adventures lead Pepper all over the place and into many lives. He is a boy who always tries to do the right thing, no matter what chaos is breaking out around him. Believing he could lose his life at any moment, Pepper tries out different ways of life, all full of spirit, excitement and unusual people. His problem is which of his new lives and personalities he should adopt permanently. And choosing is so much fun!
From the first page to the last, The Death Defying Pepper Roux is an eccentric and addictive read. Pepper is an appealing character, and it doesn't take McCaughrean long to get readers on her hero's side.
Can Pepper manage to defy death and cheat Aunt Mireille's prediction? Read it to find out. Long live Pepper Roux!
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com