Throwback Thursday Review: The Death-Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean

I’m going to start posting reviews on Thursdays of books that I have read and never gotten around to reviewing properly. I may also use it to post reviews of books that were not published recently.

Pepper RouxFrom GoodReads: Pepper’s fourteenth birthday is a momentous one. It’s the day he’s supposed to die. Everyone seems resigned to it—even Pepper, although he would much prefer to live. But can you sidestep Fate? Jump sideways into a different life? Naïve and trusting, Pepper sets a course through dangerous waters, inviting disaster and mayhem at every turn, one eye on the sky for fear of angels, one on the magnificent possibilities of being alive.

It took me two tries to get through this book. It has a rough start that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (or so I thought). However, I was REALLY glad I stuck with it the second time around.

On his 14th birthday Pepper picks up his father’s jacket and, believing his superstitious aunt who has always told him this would be the day he died, he heads down to his father’s boat. Here is where I was lost the first time. Wearing his father’s coat seems to convince people that he must be his father and everyone begins to treat him as the captain. Despite the fact that they are seeing a 14 year old boy in a man’s coat. This happens again and again as he side steps from one adventure and life into the next. People simply assume because he is in a certain place, say behind a deli counter or in a newspaper room, that he belongs there and is either someone they know or should know and they simply go along with it. You have to let the absurdity of it wash over you and accept it and once you do, it’s actually quite enjoyable how Pepper hops from one adventure to the next.

I think ultimately there were a couple themes and messages in this book, none of them blatant. First Pepper learns to question what his aunt has been saying all these years. She is the one who has claimed to have seen a religions vision that proclaims that Pepper will die on his 14th birthday. As he gets more experience of the world it puts his life so far into perspective and his aunt (and parents to some extent) seem more and more ridiculous and tied to the idea that your destiny simply happens to you while you passively wait for it. From this Pepper also learns that you make your own luck and fate. He goes out and has experiences, meets good people, bad people, all kinds of people and he begins to take actions based on what he feels is right. This leads to more experiences and to building a family. A number of the characters he encounters stick around or keep popping up. And at one point he steps into the life of one of his sailors from his first adventure on his father’s boat. The man had died and left a widow, a woman whom he was very cruel to. Pepper steps in and is kind to her, takes care of her and their home. She grows to love him, but not as a husband. As a son. With her and his father’s former first mate Pepper find parents that are willing to love and care for him unlike his own who mostly wrung their hands over his impending death. He also has some friends that he has accumulated and they too become part of the family. So it is also a story about the chosen family.

The Death-Defying Pepper Roux is a quirky book. It would take a quirky, whimsical kid to really appreciate it (and probably finish it). In some ways it reminds me of Ophelia and the Magic Boy except Pepper isn’t such a sad sack. I would say kids who wonder about other people’s lives may find this of interest and honestly some adults may enjoy this too. Adults who were quirky whimsical kids. But I’m rather at a loss for any other books that this is like, which I guess is to say it’s unlike anything else, to my knowledge.