Orphans are a common trope in children’s literature. I’m sure many people have researched and written on this topic, so I won’t do that here. But I will say that Rooftoppers, by Katherine Rundell with illustrations by Terry Fan (Simon & Schuster, $16.99, out today), delightfully plays with and challenges all the conventions of books about orphans. It is wonderfully mystical, and laugh out loud funny. Charles Maxim finds Sophie floating in a cello case in the English Channel after a shipwreck. According to the pin on her front, reading 1! it is probably Sophie’s first birthday. Charles, a scholar, takes her in and plans to care for her, despite the consternation of one Miss Eliot from the National Childcare Agency:
‘But it’s a child! You’re a man!’
‘Your powers of observation are formidable,’ said Charles. ‘You are a credit to your optician.’
‘But what are you going to do with her?’
Charles looked bewildered. ‘I am going to love her. That should be enough, if the poetry I’ve read is anything to go by.’
So Sophie isn’t alone; Charles does love her, and despite her rather unconventional upbringing and the fact that Charles allows her to wear trousers (!), she is happy. They are happy. Until Sophie turns 12 and the National Childcare Agency decides that Charles is an unfit guardian for a young woman. Sophie, who has hair the color of lightening, and loves to play the cello, has memories of her mother aboard that ship. She also finds an address for a music shop in Paris in the cello case that Charles finds her in. The two of them spirit away to Paris to look for her mother. There Sophie discovers a world of urchins — not street urchins, but rooftop urchins. With a little friendship, music, and just a touch of magic, Sophie might find exactly what she is looking for on the rooftops of Paris.
I wanted to title this post ‘for a teenager who wants a book that is better than its title/cover’, but no one’s ever asked me for that. Sarah Dessen is a perfect example, though. I picked up one her books years ago, thinking it would be an easy read for the train, and was really surprised at how well written it was and how complex the characters were. She continues to write and although I haven’t read all of her works, I can confidently recommend them (especially This Lullaby). So what about for someone who has read all of Sarah Dessen? I usually recommend Stephanie Perkin’s two books: Anna and the French Kiss (Speak, $9.99) and Lola and the Boy Next Door (Dutton Books, $16.99).
When I hand Anna and the French Kiss to a young/mid teen, I often see the parent’s eyes open a little wider and I feel compelled to indicate that the book isn’t nearly as salacious as it sounds. There are approximately two significant kisses. I’m sorry to say they are both relatively innocent. The book is actually about a girl who is sent to boarding school in Paris for her senior year of high school. It deals with living abroad, making friends, discovering a new culture and then reexamining your own. There is actually more sexuality in Lola and the Boy Next Door (although mostly off the page). Lola is dating an older man (22 to her 17), whom both of her fathers hate. She loves fashion and never leaves the house twice in the same outfit, wig, or accessories. Although Lola often tries to convince herself that she’s old for her years, she still struggles with identity, especially when her her appearance is forever changing. Cricket Bell — the boy next door — wears great pants, invents cool devices, and is determined to help Lola see herself for who she actually is. Set in San Francisco, with a delightful and colorful cast of characters, including Anna from the first book, Lola is a fun read that will surprise you with its depth and quality.