Louis undercover by Fanny Britt

cover image

Illus. by Isabelle Arsenault. Walker Studio, 2019. ISBN: 9781406378429.
(Age: 8-12) Recommended. Themes; Family breakup, alcohol abuse, adolescence, siblings, friendship, first love. Louis and his little brother Truffle live with their mum in a 3rd floor apartment in Montreal and they visit their dad in the country at weekends. Both parents are sad, his mother is anxious and Louis tries not to worry her but Louis' dad is an alcoholic and when drinking Louis watches him cry for hours. He knows his dad is sad for the life they had together when they were a happy family; 'I know because I am too' p.23. Dissipating images of the happy memories fly past the windows of the bus as the boys travel back to their mother in the city. Truffle, who is too young to fully understand the situation, sings and asks Louis repetitive childish questions. Complicating matters for Louis is that he has a crush on Billie, a brave girl in his class who stands up to bullies. He spies on her, gathering information, but lacks the ability to speak to her, worrying that, like his Dad, he will fail the ones he loves. Encouraged by his stalwart friend Boris, Louis buys her a gift but fails to pluck up enough courage to give it to her before the long school break. As she leaves, the wonderfully supportive, Boris suggests they get some fries while the black, scribbled out image of Billie riding her bike away, expresses Louis' feelings of failure eloquently. When Louis finds an injured raccoon and nurses him back to health he is able to find purpose and success through his own initiative. Things seem to be better with an unexpected reconciliation between his parents and although his dad relapses things do seem to have moved forward with more clarity about their problems and when school goes back 'As Boris watches my progress, full of hope for us all, I understand what I'm doing - putting one foot in front of the other, putting one word in front of the other' p.151 and he speaks to Billie.
Arsenault's subtle illustrations powerfully evoke the internalised agonies of adolescence complicated by feelings of impotence in a fractured family. Using a restricted palate of greys and blues with splashes of yellow for the happy moments in Louis' life, the sketchy illustrations have a journal like quality with a number of full or double page spreads where powerful emotions are expressed. A book suitable not only for those eight to twelve year old students struggling with family breakup but also for their friends who could pick up some tips on how to be supportive.
A layered story subtly told with empathy which will reward repeated reading. Teacher's notes are available.
Sue Speck