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Review of Louis Undercover

Louis Undercover
by Fanny Britt; illus. by Isabelle Arsenault; trans. from the French by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou
Middle School    Groundwood    160 pp.
10/17    978-1-55498-859-4    $19.95
e-book ed.  978-1-55498-860-0    $16.95

The collaborators behind Jane, the Fox & Me (rev. 1/14) have crafted another poignant picture book–sized graphic novel, this time about alcoholism, family separation, and the meaning of bravery. Louis, his little brother Truffle, and their parents used to live together in the country…but not anymore. The boys currently reside in a Montreal highrise overlooking the highway with their always-worried mom, occasionally visiting their untreated-alcoholic dad. Louis believes his family’s “pretty unlucky in love,” so it’s not surprising he doesn’t act on his feelings for Billie, a girl at school. Over seven sections, Louis poetically describes emotions he can’t verbally articulate (“love is like a rock shattering your heart, as painful as it is life-giving”), and his insightful observations about realistic familial struggles are heartrending (“They didn’t stop [loving each other]. That’s the problem”). Arsenault’s dramatic pencil and ink illustrations with splashes of yellow and greenish-blue for emphasis superbly depict Louis’s somber world. Powerfully moving wordless panels accentuate emotions to great effect. Happier plot points include kindhearted Louis’s interactions with his friend Boris and naive Truffle, and the brothers caring for a wounded raccoon. A brief reconciliation leads to a family trip to NYC, but ultimately the vacation can’t mask the severity of Dad’s problem. Britt’s ending is appropriately bittersweet as Dad heads off to rehab and Louis finally musters the courage to speak to Billie, having realized love is something worth being brave for.

From the November/December 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Cynthia K. Ritter About Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is associate editor of The Horn Book Guide. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons College.

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