The Death-Defying Pepper Roux

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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 ...

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HarperCollins, 01/19/2010, Library Binding, Brand New! New dust jacket.

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The Death-Defying Pepper Roux

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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.

New York Times bestselling and Printz Award-winning author GeraldineMcCaughrean has created a gripping tale filled with dark humor and daringescapades, where the key to a boy's lifelies in facing his own death.

Join him on the run—if you can keep up.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist (starred review)
“Exuberant prose and whirling humor animate an unforgettable cast of characters. A more whimsical, French cousin to Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (2008), with a similar timelessly classic feel.”
Assembly on Literature for Adolescents
“The Death-Defying Pepper Roux is a thoughtful novel and an entertaining adventure story. McCaughrean once again proves that she is a talented writer with the ability to weave truly enchanting metaphors.”
The Horn Book
“[T]horoughly entertaining. It’s McCaughrean’s way with language that establish[es] this picaresque tale as the latest evidence that she is one of the more remarkable novelists writing for children today.”
"Exuberant prose and whirling humor animate an unforgettable cast of characters. A more whimsical, French cousin to Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (2008), with a similar timelessly classic feel."
Children's Literature - Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger
Aunt Mireille greets the birth of her nephew with a grave prediction—that he will die at age fourteen. She spends his childhood teaching him the last rites instead of nursery rhymes and convinces everyone in the family this death is inevitable. On his fourteenth birthday, Pepper runs away in an attempt to escape death. Pepper steals aboard his father's ship and poses as the captain, managing to enlist the support of Duchesse, a cross-dressing and nurturing steward. In the midst of the ship going down, Pepper is plunged into one rollicking adventure after another, pretending to be a deli worker, a delivery boy, a reporter, and a member of the Foreign Legion. In each case, Pepper's genuine concern for people and desire to help others helps him bring out the best in some of the people around him. But will he be able to continue to cheat sure death? Or will the large man who has been following him manage to catch him and fulfill the prophesy? The plot is wandering and sometimes difficult to follow, but the writing is fun and the characters are very engaging. Probably most appealing for readers (especially boys) aged 10 to 14. Reviewer: Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger
Publishers Weekly
Kindhearted Pepper Roux has been led to believe that “[c]hildhood was a mouse trap from which he could never expect to escape,” his death by age 14 foretold in a dream. His maiden Aunt Mireille takes it upon herself to pave Pepper's path to heaven with daily prayer, constant confession, and rote memorization of last rites. So when Pepper awakens on his 14th birthday still alive, he launches himself on a sea voyage, intent on outrunning death. Mistaken for the ship's captain (his father), he is befriended by a compassionate, cross-dressing steward, Duchesse. Creating vivid characters is just one of McCaughrean's (The White Darkness) gifts—Aunt Mireille joins Dahl's Spiker and Sponge as one of the Most Evil Aunts in children's literature. Pepper flees across the French countryside from one disastrous job to another—delivery boy, horse wrangler, deli clerk, and even journalist, which allows McCaughrean to wink at readers as Pepper complains, “Copy editors cannot read anything without changing it.” As his journey ends in a cleverly orchestrated climax, readers will root for Pepper to get the ending he deserves—a happy one. Ages 10–up. (Jan.)
VOYA - Amy Sisson
Pepper Roux is doomed. Upon his birth, his aunt predicts that Pepper will not live past his fourteenth birthday, and so his family spends Pepper's childhood preparing for the inevitable. Even Pepper is resigned to his fate, but at the last minute, an opportunity presents itself. Pepper impersonates his sea-captain father and steals his ship, embarking on the first of many adventures. Pepper disguises himself by turns as a delicatessen clerk, a journalist, a telegram boy, and more, remaining in each persona until he inadvertently calls attention to himself. Pepper enjoys many of his adventures, but he is wracked by guilt and fear, believing he has cheated the angels by not dying on schedule. An award-winning author, McCaughrean has no lack of imagination, and Pepper's foray as a sea captain is quite enjoyable. There is plenty of action as Pepper moves from role to role, but there is also a sense of randomness that sometimes makes the story feel a little pointless. On the other hand, the book's slight surrealism and tidy structure, which comes full circle in the end, may appeal to fans of Louis Sachar's Holes (Farrar Straus Giroux/Macmillan, 1998/VOYA December 1998), for instance. The catch is that the younger teens most likely to enjoy this book will need to be fairly skilled readers to manage the vocabulary, whereas older, more sophisticated readers might ultimately be a little bored. Still the book is refreshing and could catch on with some pushing. Reviewer: Amy Sisson
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—A charming tale about Pepper Roux, whose jealous and cruel Aunt Mireille foretells, at his birth, his death at age 14. A devout Catholic, she insists that he learn Last Rites rather than nursery rhymes. When his 14th birthday arrives, Pepper runs away to sea in an attempt to stay a step ahead of death. He steps into many different lives, largely because, as the author repeatedly points out, people see what they expect to see. Pepper becomes the captain of a coffin ship, has a brief career as a journalist who will only write good news, and joins the Foreign Legion (until he realizes that he'll have to kill people). Each role is an adventure that leaves chaos in its wake and good-hearted Pepper one step ahead of getting caught. The story is set in France and has a 1930-ish feel. While the episodic plot may not be its strongest draw, the memorable characters and lyrical prose make the novel hard to put down. Pepper, in all his endearing innocence and goodness, will capture readers' hearts, and Duchesse, the cross-dressing steward, may be the most hilarious yet wise character in children's literature this decade. McCaughrean tackles big issues here: families, faith, loss, jealousy, and the expectations of others. The question with this book may be one of audience: Will kids understand its subtleties and some of the references, particularly the religious and political ones? But in the hands of the right child, this novel will be savored.—Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME
Kirkus Reviews
Poor Pepper Roux (his nickname "le pauvre," or "pitiful one," was confused at school with "poivre," French for "pepper") has been waiting for death for as long as he can remember. According to his malevolent Aunt Mireille, Saint Constance had foretold he'd die by age 14, and due to his rather awful family's quotidian reminders of this, "The days clattered down like rows of dominoes." When he finds himself still alive on his 14th birthday, Pepper escapes, and the string of adventures and grim-reaper-dodging identity shifts that follows (from sea captain to telegram boy) comprise this laugh-out-loud funny, picaresque adventure set in early-20th-century France. British novelist McCaughrean's frequently over-the-top metaphors mirror the delightfully implausible plot-a slapstick story salted with colorful characters both cruel and kind, anchored in the emotional reality of a painfully naive boy who gets quite a bit wiser. The refrain-"Well, people see what they expect to see. Or do they see what they want?"-sits at the heart of this poignant, odd, wonderfully composed and vastly entertaining novel. (Fiction. 12 & up)
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—When Paul "Pepper" Roux wakes up on his 14th birthday, he knows one thing: today, he is supposed to die. His entire life has been spent preparing for the death foretold by his Aunt Mireille, but it looks like he might find a way to sidestep fate. He will simply slip into another life. Posing as a ship's captain gets him away from home, and in his travels he becomes a deli meat-slicer, a reporter, and a legionnaire, among other unlikely careers. He shifts from one identity to another, finding that people see what they expect to see. Pepper's innocence and good nature will charm listeners, even as his good intentions bring the wrath of the police, gangsters, and the Foreign Legion down on him in a hilariously messy climax. British actor Anton Lesser provides fantastic narration of Geraldine McCaughrean's tale (HarperCollins, 2010), set in France, giving the characters distinct voices and bringing them to life while complementing the classic, lyrical feel of the text. Filled with humor and hope, this is a winner.—Beth Gallego, Los Angeles Public Library, CA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061836664
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/19/2010
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 328
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Geraldine McCaughrean is the Printz Award-winning author of The White Darkness. She has been honored with England's most prestigious children's book award, the Carnegie Medal, and is the only three-time winner ever of the Whitbread Children's Book Award. She also wrote Peter Pan in Scarlet, the first official sequel to the treasured masterpiece Peter Pan, and the critically acclaimed The Death-Defying Pepper Roux. Geraldine lives in Berkshire, England, with her husband and actress daughter.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 11, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    All books should be this good

    One of my favorite novels of the year so far, this supremely entertaining story from the British writer Geraldine McCaughrean, tells the tale of Pepper Roux, fated to die on his 14th birthday. Determined to outrun fate, Pepper leaves home and embarks on a series of hilarious misadventures. This would make a great classroom or family read-aloud. If the author were American, I would say this should be on everybody's Newbery shortlist.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 11, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Darkly humorous

    At first I had no idea what to make of this book. I suppose given the cover art and title, I was expecting a story of daring escapades in which a boy who thought he was supposed to already have died was completely fearless in the face of danger, leading a crew of misfit sailors into certain death scenarios and coming out completely unscathed. It took me a while to adjust to the fact that, in reality, it's nothing like that at all, but is more of a dark comedy about a clever but unassuming boy who runs from death directly into the arms of various strangers who are not necessarily the best type of people to be surrounded by.

    The story generally assumes that most people Pepper encounters are going to try to take advantage of him in some way, or, at the very least, completely misinterpret everything about him. However, if you pull yourself out of the narrative for a moment and recalibrate what you're expecting, the tale of young Pepper is actually pretty funny, especially all of the little narrator intrusions that Geraldine adds throughout the story. My favorite is a little jab at editors mentioning that no editor can read something without changing it. (Having editor disputes lately, Geraldine?)

    Anyway, all of that said, don't take the book too seriously, and I believe you will really enjoy the read, especially the jabs at Catholicism, and the base nature of people. Otherwise, you'll likely be frustrated that the book is not something different than it is. I recommend this book to young readers who enjoy a good dark comedy.

    -Lindsey Miller,

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2011

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