This isn’t Ms. Bordas’s first novel; it’s her third, but it is the first one written in English (the first two were in her native French). And if that’s not enough to spark an inferiority complex, please know that it is an accomplished, erudite novel, with a wry humor and an undertow of mournfulness. The narrator is Isadore Mazal, the youngest child in a family of six. Except for Isadore, all the family specializes in being exceptional. He has three older siblings getting PhDs right and left, a brother who is a cello prodigy, and a sister too brilliant for her own good. When the beloved but distant father in this odd group suddenly dies, Isadore’s quiet childhood is jarred into something new. The quirky family Bordas creates here reminded me of Salinger’s Glass clan. It’s not a book that rises and falls on plot, but an attentive reader will fall in love with the Mazal family and their awkward, funny, and sad lurches away from childhood, and grief.
I recently fell in love with two delightful first chapter books, the books an emerging reader first reads all by herself. Buddy and Earl Go Exploring, by Maureen Fergus, chronicles the adventures of two best friends, a dog and a hedgehog, who support each other through thick and thin.
The Battle of the Vegetables, by Matthieu Sylvander, is a hilariously odd trio of tales, featuring a cow who convinces a field of leeks that she is one of Santa’s reindeer, a crop of carrots on the lam, and a starcrossed romance between Romeo, a leek, and Julienne, a carrot. A lively precursor to the zaniness of Roald Dahl.
Spanning time and continents, this swiftly-paced novel is an amazing mash-up of science fiction, humor, and the darkness of humanity, with robots, madmen, mad scientists, explorers, and boys at summer camp. It's Kurt Vonnegut for teen readers. Amazing.