Graphic novels are hot right now, it seems everyone is talking about them and with good reason; they are a wonderful way of communicating a story in a unique and visually delightful way. For those who aren’t familiar with the format, I’ve included a few pictures throughout this review to give you a better idea of what to expect, but be forewarned graphic novels aren’t just for kids, in fact many view them as a format suited to both youths and adults alike. When I received Louis Undercover by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault in the mail I was ecstatic, because this book is such a beautiful work of art, and I’m proud to have it on my bookshelf.
I should mention this story is translated from the French by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou, who were the dynamic duo behind this other lovely story I reviewed last year. Translating something like this would be a great challenge because there isn’t as much text, luckily the illustrations speak volumes as well. It’s a story told from the perspective of a young boy (Louis) whose parents are separated, seemingly over his father’s alcoholism. Louis has a younger brother nicknamed Truffle, and together they shuttle back and forth between their mother’s apartment in the city, and their old family home in the country where their father now lives alone. In the midst of this difficult family life, Louis has an undeniable crush on a girl at school named Billie, who he desperately admires but has never actually spoken to. And as in many books told from the perspective of a young person, we never get to know the entire story, but that’s the appeal for the reader-piecing together what is going on in the lives of their adults while the children offer their own perspective.
Aside from the gorgeous illustrations and the selective yet effective use of colour, Louis Undercover‘s strength lies in the dialogue. The conversations between the kids are the most illuminating, and almost always tinged with humour, despite the difficult circumstances. The bravery of the two brothers is heart-wrenching and hopeful, which forced me to pause and reflect more than once on the resilience of children, and how little we give them credit for. They are always more perceptive than we think, and reading this book will remind you of that.
The only problem I had with writing this review was coming up with an audience to recommend it to, because who wants to pick up a beautiful book about a family coming apart at the seams? Bibliophiles like me will undoubtedly appreciate Louis Undercover, but it would be a hard sell for any teen, especially if they are dealing with similar issues at home. And although this wouldn’t be ideal as a gift either, I think the book is so beautiful that it’s one every can-lit fan should have on their shelves. It’s a testament to the breadth of talent our authors, illustrators and translators possess in this great country of ours, and it’s one that can be shared over the years with friends and family who are open to reading about these types of things. Talking about these problems can be difficult, but poring over stunning artwork with a strong message is something most people can and do enjoy.