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The Death-Defying Pepper Roux Hardcover – January 19, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 6–9—A charming tale about Pepper Roux, whose jealous and cruel Aunt Mireille foretells, at his birth, his death at age 14. A devout Catholic, she insists that he learn Last Rites rather than nursery rhymes. When his 14th birthday arrives, Pepper runs away to sea in an attempt to stay a step ahead of death. He steps into many different lives, largely because, as the author repeatedly points out, people see what they expect to see. Pepper becomes the captain of a coffin ship, has a brief career as a journalist who will only write good news, and joins the Foreign Legion (until he realizes that he'll have to kill people). Each role is an adventure that leaves chaos in its wake and good-hearted Pepper one step ahead of getting caught. The story is set in France and has a 1930-ish feel. While the episodic plot may not be its strongest draw, the memorable characters and lyrical prose make the novel hard to put down. Pepper, in all his endearing innocence and goodness, will capture readers' hearts, and Duchesse, the cross-dressing steward, may be the most hilarious yet wise character in children's literature this decade. McCaughrean tackles big issues here: families, faith, loss, jealousy, and the expectations of others. The question with this book may be one of audience: Will kids understand its subtleties and some of the references, particularly the religious and political ones? But in the hands of the right child, this novel will be savored.—Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* McCaughrean has proven to be a remarkably versatile writer, from her Printz Award–winning White Darkness (2008) to Peter Pan in Scarlet (2006). Her latest imagines a young boy who, in unspecified mid-twentieth century France, is told by his spiteful aunt that he’ll be dead by 14. So, hoping to outrun fate, Pepper Roux flees his unhappy home and embarks on a series of plucky misadventures in which he becomes, among other things, the captain of a ship, a deli-meat slicing would-be Cupid, a fact-shrugging journalist, and a reluctant legionnaire. Nearly every episode ends with Pepper scampering away not only from the death he thinks is nipping at his heels, but also all manner of incensed people, culminating in a hectic free-for-all that ties everything together in one charming, messy bow. McCaughrean’s exuberant prose and whirling humor animate an unforgettable cast of characters, from the good-hearted Pepper, who lies and impersonates without the barest inkling of consequence, to the cross-dressing steward who trails along in Pepper’s chaotic wake like a clumsy guardian angel. The whole is a more whimsical, French cousin to Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (2008), with a similar sort of timelessly classic feel that emphasizes the value of finding family, but never at the expense of storytelling that delights in its own joyful sense of improbability. Grades 5-8. --Ian Chipman
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 5 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 920L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (January 19, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061836656
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061836657
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,353,830 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

It's 30 years now since I first got published, and 50 since I found out how writing let me step outside my little, everyday world and go wherever I chose - way back in Time, to far distant shores, towards my own, home-made happy ending. Not that all my books are an easy ride. I write adventure, first and foremost, because that's what I enjoyed reading as a child. But since I have published over 150 books now, there are all manner of books in among that number - gorgeously illustated picture books, easy readers, prize winners, teenage books and five adult novels.
The White Darkness won the Printz Award in the USA, which, for as Englishwoman, was the most amazing, startling thrill.
Then there was Peter Pan in Scarlet - official sequel to J M Barrie's Peter Pan, written on behalf of Great Ormond Street Hopsital for Sick Children. I won the chance to write that in a worldwide competition, and because Peter Pan is loved everywhere, my book sold worldwide too. I can't say I expected that when, as a child, I dreamed of being like my older brother and getting a book published one day.
These days I have a husband (who's good at continuity and spelling) and a daughter who is an excellent editor. But she's at the Royal Academy of Dramtic Art now, studying to become an actor. So, naturally, I have turned my hand to writing plays. (So many actors, so few plays!)
My Mum told me, "Never boil your cabbages twice, dear," which was her way of saying, "Don't repeat yourself." So I have tried never to write the same book twice. You'll find all my novels quite different from one another. I have also done lots of retellings of myth, legend, folk and fairy tales, and adapted indigestible classics such as El Cid, the Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, Moby Dick, Shakespeare and the Pilgrim's Progress.
Something for everyone, you see, my dear young, not-so-young, eccentric, middle-of-the-road, poetical, sad, cheerful, timid or reckless reader.
All they have in common is that they all contain words. If you are allergic to words, you'd best not open the covers.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By debbie8355 on March 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is an old fashioned, outlandish and brilliantly written tale of Pepper Roux who has the misfortune of being predicted to die before manhood by an aunt who has a vision the night before his birth. He is neglected in all ways except for his overly harsh religious instruction as his family believe it's a waste of effort spending any time on him. Rather than wait around Sleeping Beauty style for the prediction to come true at age 14, and with a family who accept his fate, Pepper decides to run and takes on new identities as he goes. He takes risks as he feels he is cheating death every day and feels guilty when others around him die: he believes their sorry ends were meant for him. He slips into other peoples identities, turns up for jobs he hasn't been employed to do and creates amusing chaos as he goes by always trying to do the right thing. Pepper Roux disappears rather than dies that day.
Some parts of the book I absolutely loved but others especially when ship bound fell flat for me. The preposterous settings where matched with events with questionable motives (such as when a ship crew member tries to kill him early on) were a let down. The final collision of all the characters made up for it in the end. The constant shifting of settings and characters made this book highly entertaining. It's a really preposterous book in the best imaginative kind of way. If adult books can get away with this kind of storyline I don't see why why this childrens' story can't although because of the young age of the hero the situations are doubly preposterous. An innocent Sommersby section when the hero is 14 might be a step too far for some though.
It's a clever book about fate, identity and peoples habit of never questioning what perhaps should be questioned.
Recommended for readers age 12+
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dienne TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was introduced to Geraldine McCaughrean through the Amazon Vine program when I selected, almost randomly, her latest book "The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen". Right away I was hooked and wanted to read more. Her writing style is so fluid and simultaneously outrageous and believable. Her characters are larger than life and utterly impossible, yet utterly irresistible and lovable. "Sunshine Queen" was one of the wildest rides I've ever been on and I wanted to go again and again.

"The Death-Defying Pepper Roux," while quite different in setting, plot and tone, still showcases McCaughrean's zany style, and this book was no disappointment.

Paul "Pepper" Roux wakes upon his fourteenth birthday knowing that today would be the day of his death, as foretold by St. Constance through his Aunty Mireille before his birth. Pepper tries to be sanguine and accept his fate as dutifully as he's accepted everything else in his truncated life - thrice-weekly confession, calloused knees from excessive praying, his aunt's constant chastisements and remonstrances. But, really, when you're being chased, what do you do? You run, right?

And so Pepper does. Fleeing from the saints and angels, he runs right out of his own life. First he takes up his father's life as captain of the "L'Ombrage" where the doting steward Duchesse ("the Duchess") cares for his every need. Unfortunately, the saints and angels catch up with "Captain" Roux, but they miss and kill another man (one who was rather in need of killing, but that doesn't assuage Pepper's guilt). When the ship sinks (not exactly accidentally), Pepper decides, Jonah-like, to save the others by going down with the ship himself so that the saints and angels won't inadvertently harm anyone else in their pursuit of him.
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Format: Hardcover
Finding this book shelved in the teen section is a bit like having Anna Karenina stuck in with the Harlequin romances, or Metamorphosis kept in sci-fi/fantasy. This isn't just a great teen novel, it's a great novel. In fact, I'd guess that the publisher probably hurt sales by not marketing it as another Life of Pi. It should have been sold as an adult novel with a teen protagonist rather than as a young adult novel.

Pepper Roux is a 14 year-old boy living in a French coastal town. The time period is the early 1900s, but that's only a guess, and the era isn't too terribly important to the story. Pepper's family consists of a mother, father and aunt. Aunt Mireille is a religious fanatic who, on the day of Pepper's birth, claimed that St. Constance appeared to her in a vision and said that Pepper would die on his fourteenth birthday. Pepper's parents are under Mireille's thumb, or at least believe totally in her prophecy. Pepper has grown up certain in the knowledge that he will die on his fourteenth birthday. His whole life has been a preparation for his terminal day. The terrible day arrives and Pepper decides to run away from his fate. What follows is a novel with a structure that's part odyssey, part picaresque, but unlike most picaresque novels the main character is neither a rogue or a rascal, although Pepper does, in all innocence, commit some rascalish acts. It's hard to outline the plot withuot making the story sound overly whimsical, but Pepper becomes, by turn, a sea captain, a reporter, a meat cutter, a French Legionnaire, a horse wrangler, a telegraph boy, and a husband, all in an effort to disguise himself and thus hide from St. Constance's wrath.
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