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The Death Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean

One of my friend Julia’s recommendations, this is yet another wonderful crossover book by children’s author Geraldine McCaughrean. Surely it must be her turn as Children’s Laureate soon …

Imagine your aunt had prophesied that you would die at the age of fourteen, and worse still that everyone believed her. That’s what happened to Pepper Roux, which led to him having a very strange childhood – growing up with his religious nut of an Aunt, his absentee drunken sailor of a Dad, and a mother, who knowing he’d be dead soon, didn’t bother much with him. So, when Pepper reaches fourteen, he resolves that if he is to die it will not be a wasted death, and he runs away to sea.

This is the first adventure of many amongst the low-lifes of Marseilles and the Camargue for the youngster on the run. Unfortunately death seems to follow him around, and each time he believes it should have been him. A helpful lad, he tries to do good turns along the way, but they often backfire on him too. All this means that the gendarmes are on his trail.

McCaughrean has conjured up a wonderful French setting with a magnificent cast of sailors, horse-thieves, and gangsters who all try to take advantage of the young man. Pepper however is growing up fast and living life to the full – each day still believing that it could be his last. Along the way he learns about truth, lies and their consequences which, although primarily written for young adults, makes this book a really satisfying adult read. No explanation of the occasional French words is given – that would slow up the narrative which maintains a speedy pace throughout. Pepper’s adventures make delightfully witty and page-turning read, but you will think about the story for ages afterwards.

(Book supplied by the Amazon Vine programme; 9/10)

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