CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 20. . . . January 26, 2018
Louis is a young teen who, together with his little brother Truffle, travels between their separated parents’ households. Readers first meet Louis at what was once the family home in the country as he spies on his alcoholic father who is haunted by old family memories. It is difficult for Louis to see his father cry. After their visit with their dad, Louis and his brother travel by bus back to their worried mom’s apartment in the city. Truffle is too young to understand the family situation fully, and he lightens Louis’ days with his naïve questions and by singing his favorite James Brown songs. Louis also has a friend in Boris, who spends time with him spotting ghost cop cars and encouraging Louis to speak with Billie, his school crush. The example of the poor relationship between his parents causes Louis to be too shy to speak with Billie. He has learned “that love ends badly”.
The mood is cautiously optimistic when the boys spend part of their summer vacation with their dad. All of the signs indicate that Dad is trying not to drink. Louis finds a wounded baby racoon that he nurses to health. The boys have a nice time until Truffles suffers a bee sting. The story shifts when their mother comes out to see them. They become a regular family, with Mom making pancakes and laughing again. The family drive off to New York for a family holiday and celebrate a few wonderful days together. They have the best time until old habits and temptations take over, and life becomes sad once more.
Back at home, life is fragile; Boris does not ask any questions about the holiday, and life is like living in a china shop. “Don’t touch anything, don’t break anything.” Very quietly, something changes in Louis, and, when school begins again, he walks up to Billie and speaks to her – a miracle. Louis has learned about bravery over the summer, and, to him, it means overcoming his fears.
Fanny Britt’s writing style captures the melancholy of the family’s situation with compassion. Unspoken words are illustrated in the drawings by Isabelle Arsenault. The illustrations in Louis Undercover are created in pencil and ink, and the understated greys are punctuated with colour to heighten elements of joy.
Louis Undercover is about many things, but predominantly I think that it’s about bravery; the bravery of Louis who is sensitive to the issues that his parents face, his sensitivity to the needs of his younger brother, and especially his bravery with respect to himself and dealing with his own fears. I think that children and teens who read this story will be able to see how Louis overcomes his fears and bravely moves on to live his own life without the clutter of his own parents’ problems. Children who are dealing with parents going through a separation or who, perhaps, have an alcoholic parent will find some comfort in this story, if only to realize that they also have good friends who will support them, as well as goals to work toward.
Tamara Opar is Section Head of Children’s and Teen Services at the Millennium Branch of Winnipeg Public Library.