The Death-Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In mid-twentieth century France, Pepper’s malicious aunt claims to have had a vision of his death the night before he was born; in it, Pepper dies at age fourteen. Always the well-behaved child, he never thinks to question this and takes it as fact—along with the rest of his dim-witted family. Therefore, he’s forced to spend his childhood confessing his sins at church, memorizing the last rites, and learning about the saints. But when his fourteenth birthday arrives, he realizes that he’s not ready to die, so he decides on a whim to run away to become someone else—and so elude death.
Pepper begins his quest to escape death on board a ship where he pretends to be his own father, who is a captain. Other roles he later steps into include a deli meat slicer, journalist, telegram deliverer, member of the Foreign Legion, and more. He constantly wonders how he’s able to step into these parts so easily: “Well, people see what they expect. Don’t they? Or do they see what they choose?” (16). Despite all of the misfortune Pepper faces during this time, he retains his kind nature towards others, always putting their needs before his own. Luckily, there’s a person out there who’s keeping an eye out for Pepper’s best interests too—unbeknownst to him.
This is an excellent book, full of adventure and humor. Pepper is such a likable character that the reader can’t help but root for him from the very start. Those who enjoyed this book might enjoy Peter Pan in Scarlet, also by this author.
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