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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
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by Clementine Beauvais
Age Range: 12+
Fifteen-year-old Mireille Laplanche lives in Bourg-en-Bresse with her philosophy teacher mother and step-father Philippe Dumont. She’s never met her real father whom she’s nick-named Klaus Von Strudel, a professor at the Sorbonne, an author of philosophy books and the husband of the President of France.
Mireille has just come third in the Pig Pageant, a cruel Facebook page organised by a classmate allowing everyone to vote on the three ugliest girls in the school, winning a bronze medal, having lost the top spot after two years to Astrid Blomvall, with a Year 8, Hakima Idriss winning the silver.
The three girls get together to commiserate, but decide they can’t spend the whole summer moping around so they make plans to go on a road-trip by bike to Paris. To fund their journey they will sell sausages with home-made sauces along the way. Their ultimate goal: to gate-crash a garden party at the Élysée Palace on 14th July Bastille Day – each has a reason for wanting to be there. The only way Hakima’s parents will allow her to go is if Kader, her older brother escorts them on their excursion.
As the group wend their way through the French countryside news of their trip spreads through social media and a regular article by Hélène Lesmout of the Bresse Courier and they find themselves being feted as celebrities. As well as being a tough ride, having their bikes sabotaged and finding ways to avoid pursuing journalists, they also have lots of fun en-route attending a Summer Ball at Cluny Abbey, staying in the grounds of a stately house and eating a mountain of food and drinking the odd glass of wine!
Mireille adopts a confident and confiding tone in her narrative which is both witty and sardonic. She provides regular tongue-in-cheek self-depreciating humour with observations that are wickedly funny and irreverent.
Somewhat smitten, when she meets Kader for the first time, Mireille describes him as ‘a blinding Sun’ appearing on the doorstep. Throughout the story she continues to behave like a love-sick teenager in his presence and the friendship that develops slowly between the two is heart-warming and moving.
Kader is a war veteran having served on active duty in the army losing both his legs in an ambush. Mireille does not spare her invective regarding her thoughts on war. “The Sun was in the desert because he was a soldier in Problemistan” … where the army had been sent “in order to bury desert people under the sand dunes in order to prevent said desert people from exploding the Eiffel Tower with bombs hidden in fake pregnant women’s bellies”.
Mireille has a way with words that is refreshing. When describing how stressed she is she explains that it’s comparable to a cappuccino – “I’m like the milk you put into a cappuccino, you know? Super-stressed, but also frothy, frothy, frothy and full of little bubbles”.
Piglettes by Clémentine Beauvais is a remarkably original, sharp and often hilarious story of three girls who are determined not to let malicious online trolling get them down. Beauvais has translated the novel from French into English herself which is no mean feat as it’s a beautifully polished translation. This warm and inspiring story tackles some of the important issues facing young adults today such as body image and obsession with physical appearance, online bullying, racism and disability. As well as making you laugh there are some truly touching moments. An incredibly uplifting book.