The Pull of the Ocean


On a stormy night, little Yann Doutreleau wakes up his six older brothers, all twins. He lets them know that they must flee their home—or risk being killed by their violent father. Without question, the siblings follow Yann into the wet darkness. And so begins their remarkable odyssey toward the ocean—as well as an unforgettable story of brotherhood.

The social worker investigating the Doutreleau family, the truck driver who gives the boys a lift, the police officer who believes...

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On a stormy night, little Yann Doutreleau wakes up his six older brothers, all twins. He lets them know that they must flee their home—or risk being killed by their violent father. Without question, the siblings follow Yann into the wet darkness. And so begins their remarkable odyssey toward the ocean—as well as an unforgettable story of brotherhood.

The social worker investigating the Doutreleau family, the truck driver who gives the boys a lift, the police officer who believes they've run away, the baker who gives them bread—each of the many people the seven boys encounter gives a stirring account of what he or she witnesses. The twins themselves add their voices, as do the Doutreleau parents; but not until the end of the journey does little Yann express his reasons for his galvanizing actions.

★ “A well-crafted mystery awaits anyone reading this fabled jigsaw puzzle. It is a memorable novel that readers will find engaging and intellectually satisfying.”—School Library Journal, Starred

★ “Mourlevat enchantingly blends the harshly real and the make-believe.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred

A Mildred L. Batchelder Award Winner
A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
An ALA Notable Book
A Bank Street College of Education Best Book

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Starred review, School Library Journal, January 1, 2007:
"A well-crafted mystery awaits anyone reading this fabled jigsaw puzzle . . . a memorable novel that readers will find engaging and intellectually satisfying."

Starred review, Publishers Weekly, January 1, 2007:
"Mourlevat enchantingly blends the harshly read and the make-believe ... [in this] effectively haunting, fluidly translated tale."

From the Hardcover edition.

Publishers Weekly

A mute 10-year-old boy stars in this inventive modern-day play on Charles Perrault's Tom Thumb. Yann, the size of a toddler, is the youngest of seven sons of poor, sour parents and the only one who is not a twin ("Yann came last and alone. Like the period at the end of a sentence"). The lad silently communicates with his brothers, but never with his parents. One night, he overhears his parents bickering and awakens his siblings, letting them know that their father plans to harm them (the author reveals the actual content of the couple's conversation later). Yann then leads the three sets of twins out into the rainy darkness. The peripatetic story weaves together first-person accounts by each twin as well as individuals who have spotted or interacted with the children. Under Yann's direction (he navigates by turning his head in all directions and then pointing the way), the brothers traverse the French countryside, heading west toward the ocean. The story takes a dark turn before they are reunited with their seemingly softened parents. Yet Yann slips away once more, stowing away on a merchant marine ship to continue his journey west. The captain observes, "I had the sudden impression that this child wasn't real, that he had stepped right out of a fairy tale." Indeed, Mourlevat enchantingly blends the harshly real and the make-believe, with the latter tipping the balance as this effectively haunting, fluidly translated tale comes to a close. Ages 12-up. (Dec.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature - Janet L. Rose
Seven brothers run away from an abusive family due to the direction of the youngest and smallest. Each chapter is written by a different person, one of the brothers or a person they encounter—the truck driver who gives them a ride, the baker who gives them bread, the old woman who had jam and cookies stolen, the old man who saw them walking the railroad track, or the caretaker who locked them in a house by the sea until the police could come. Based on Charles Perrault's rendition of the classic fairy tale Tom Thumb, Yann is the miniature boy who takes his brothers to the ocean. The story is uneventful and without direction or action. Yann supposedly runs away because he hears the father say he is going to get rid of all seven, which turns out to be all seven kittens of a recent litter. The book could be used as a comparison with versions of Tom Thumb, but only Perrault's includes all seven brothers.
School Library Journal

Gr 5–8
A well-crafted mystery awaits anyone reading this fabled jigsaw puzzle. Multiple narratives, each from the point of view of the cast of characters, meticulously reveal pieces of the puzzle while the story slowly unfolds. It is not until the end that one realizes the broader scope of what has happened. Tiny for his age, Yann Doutreleau gathers his three sets of twin brothers together to flee their dismal home after he hears their father's plans to kill them the next day. Malnourished and poorly clothed, the seven boys head out in stormy weather toward the ocean. Only Yann stands out as an oddity and they must carry him in a sack to avoid attention. On their journey, they cross paths with a list of unsuspecting characters, each strangely compassionate toward the boys' plight, each unknowingly contributing to a doomed adventure. Poverty and hardship echo throughout this modern "Tom Thumb" story, but it is ultimately the spirit of brotherhood that is the highlight of this tale. It is a memorable novel that readers will find engaging and intellectually satisfying.
—Robyn GioiaCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
This French recasting of Perrault's Tom Thumb into a surreal contemporary version is both mesmerizing and strange. Very short chapters, each told in different voices, recount the tale of the seven Doutreleau brothers: three pairs of twins and Yann, the youngest, who is a little person and mute. Yet his brothers understand him, and when he says that their rough and unkempt parents are going to kill the boys, they believe him and run away. Hitching a ride with a trucker, filching train tickets and sandwiches, the boys follow Yann, who says they must get to Bordeaux and the ocean. Along the way, various country people describe their own sightings of the group, until they are trapped and come close to death. The prose is nightmarish but occasionally lovely, and older readers will appreciate its dark magic. (Fiction. 10-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385736664
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 5/12/2009
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 208
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.80 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Jean-Claude Mourlevat is a major author of children's fiction in his native France, where his novels have garnered numerous literary awards. The author lives in France.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt


Account of Nathalie Josse, thirty-two years old, social worker

I'm one of the last people who saw Yann Doutreleau alive. At least, I believe I am. He was settled next to me in the car. I say settled rather than seated, because his short legs lay flat on the seat, straight as sticks, his feet pointing toward the glove compartment. The safety belt hung loosely around his chest. I could have put him in the car seat at the back, but I didn't dare. He looked too much like a large doll. This happened last November. Do you remember that rainy week at the beginning of the month? What miserable weather! It rained cats and dogs when I took Yann home that morning. I never saw him again.

My windshield wipers are about as efficient as drumsticks and I was driving at no more than twenty miles per hour on the county road. Had I known it would be the last time I'd see Yann, I would have looked at him more closely. Now it's too late.

I can still remember him, wedged deep in the seat, resolute, fiddling with his hands, his funny little baby hands, red and plump. Dressed in a suit jacket and gray cotton pants, he seemed to have come from another century. Who would dare dress a child this way, if not to humiliate him? They had to be clothes from the attic. My throat tightens up when I think of it.

I had never seen a little boy like him before. What was his height? Two feet? Two feet and a half? In any case, he was hardly as tall as a two-year-old child. Yet he was ten. Yann was a miniature.

"Sweet," "cute," "charming," "adorable": that's what you felt like saying about him, except that an old, knowing expression around his eyes and mouth kept you from doing so. He had none of the deformities that you find in dwarfs. Everything about him was harmonious, but everything was . . . small.

It was pouring. Wind gusted. The map unfolded loosely on my knees. It couldn't be much farther away. A few hundred yards, perhaps. I had probably missed the path, gone past without noticing it. Everything was possible in that rain. I made a U-turn and tried to concentrate. It was all the more irritating that Yann knew the way. But he wasn't cooperating.

"Is it in this direction? Right or left?" I asked at the beginning. "If you don't want to talk, at least point the way with your finger."

I might as well have questioned my umbrella.

I still knew almost nothing about my little passenger. Only that he was ten years old, that his name was Yann, and that he was mute. He had arrived at school that morning, looking dazed, and without his book bag. When questioned, his brothers had not been very talkative.

"It's the father threw it swimming," one of them had finally said before snuffling up a one-inch booger.

Translation: the father had thrown the book bag in a well, or in a pond, or in some body of water.

I'd encountered some crazy cases in my maddening profession, but this one was a first. I looked at the child surreptitiously, at the thick shoes gaping at the soles, at the frayed pants, at the sleeves of a brown sweater that were too long for the jacket's. My throat tightened. I was about to pat Yann's knee and tell him "Don't worry, it will be all right," when the path appeared suddenly on our right. A small panel, half hidden in the weeds, spelled out: Perrault's.

I parked the car at the entrance of the courtyard and waited before getting out. The rain was pouring in buckets.

"Is this it?" I asked.

Without looking at me, the child nodded slightly. It was here.

The farm was ugly and dirty. A huge heap of scrap iron was piled in the yard. Weeds were growing on top of it. Near the door of a shed, whose roof was falling apart, a large, skinny dog was barking.

The Doutreleaus were well known at school. The father had a farm. Yann was the seventh child. The six others were all twins. The two older boys were fourteen, the next thirteen, the youngest eleven. Each year, or almost each year, in September, the sixth-grade teachers witnessed the latest delivery of Doutreleaus. All the twins were tall for their age, but skinny, probably due to undernourishment. And none showed any aptitude for school.

Yann came last and alone. Like the period at the end of a sentence.

The dog barked more loudly near the shed. A door opened farther down and a woman planted herself on the threshold. Her apron was filthy, and a frying pan hung from one of her arms.

"Is that your mother?"

Silence. I got out of the car, opened my umbrella and helped Yann out. Together we waded across the courtyard toward the motionless woman. The mud came up to our ankles.

"Hello. My name is Nathalie Josse. I'm a social worker. I'd like to . . ."

The dog had sneaked up behind me, and I had the impression that it was waiting for the right moment to pounce and tear off a piece of my calf. As a reflex, I took the child's hand in mine. His head hung low, and I shuddered because his tiny hand was as rough as a lumberjack's or a construction worker's.

It didn't occur to the woman to quiet the dog or to come forward to meet us. Neither did she seem surprised to see her son come home at this time of day or accompanied. She simply watched us with the vacant look of a fish and waited for things to unfold.

"Are you Mrs. Doutreleau?" I tried again. "My name is Nathalie--"

"What's he done?" Her tone was dry and threatening.

"Yann hasn't done anything. I just wanted--"

The frying pan went flying, grazing my shoulder before landing full blast on the dog's head. He whimpered pitifully as he ran to take refuge behind the house.

"Whaddya want, then?"

"Well, I'm bringing Yann back because he came to school without his book bag and he didn't look well. Could I talk to you about it?"

"See the father."

Even with the umbrella, the rain was running down our heads, flooding my face, icing my shoulders. I insisted and the woman repeated:

"See the father."

Seeing that she wasn't budging from the doorway, and that she gave me a hard look, I understood that she wasn't about to let me in. So after the third "See the father," I gave up.

"And when can I see him?"


"In the morning?"

Instead of answering me, she addressed the child for the first time.

"Get in here, you!"

Yann let go of my hand and slipped into the small space between his mother and the door. Before he disappeared, he did something strange. Without turning his body, he swiveled his head and looked at me over his shoulder. This didn't last more than three seconds, yet the image is imprinted on my mind more clearly than any photograph. Ever since, I keep seeing his face, his eyes firmly locked onto mine. I had the uneasy feeling that he was talking to me. And yet he didn't say a word. He didn't move. At first, I read reproach in his eyes.

Congratulations, some fine work you've done.

But right after, I read some gratitude.

You've been nice to me. You couldn't have known.

I try to convince myself that this is all there was to his look back, but I know now that his eyes were telling me something else. Were shouting something else. And what they were shouting was Help me!

I didn't understand or didn't want to understand. I told myself that I would take care of things later, that it was one of those situations that could wait until the next day. But there was no next day.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 15, 2009

    The Pull of the Ocean

    This is a tale about seven brothers who take the journey of a lifetime. Yann, the youngest brother, overhears his parents talking one night. He wakes up his brothers and communicates to them that their parents are planning to harm them. The boys believe him because of the harsh environment they face everyday and run away in the middle of the night. Throughout their adventure they are faced with adversity. It is amazing to see how the boys pull together to protect and help one another. This is a great story to show brotherhood and strong family ties. It is a first person account of the trials and tribulations these seven children endure. The brothers themselves contribute the majority of the story, but you also receive testimony from the people they encountered along the way. This provides you with multiple points of view and paints a more vivid picture in your mind. This may prove to be confusing to some young readers because you have to carefully follow each character. At certain points, it is hard to remember who is speaking. Overall, I believe The Pull of the Ocean is a good read. It is a captivating story and the ending is a true surprise.

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  • Posted November 14, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Carrie Spellman for

    Yann is the seventh son, and the only one born alone. His six older brothers are three sets of twins. Yann has never really grown and he doesn't speak. Oddly, he communicates to his brothers much more accurately than they do to each other. When he wakes them up one night, explaining wordlessly that their father plans to harm them, they follow him without question. <BR/><BR/>Their journey is to the ocean, a place where they all anticipate feeling safe. With nothing but the clothes on their backs, Yann leads them from their home and into the unknown. Yann alone knows which path they are on, and that is enough for the others. <BR/><BR/>Each section is told by a different voice, the mom, the dad, each brother, people who help them, people who don't... The only person who knows the true and complete story is Yann, and we don't hear from him until nearly the end. Rest assured, there is a method to it all. <BR/><BR/>This is one of those stories where you just have to follow where it takes you. And the cool thing is, it doesn't feed you any judgments or ideas. I think every person who reads this will take something slightly different from it, and I really like that. I also really like the way it was written. I could see this being one of those required books that you actually really enjoy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2008


    Wow. That is one word to describe this outstanding, relatively new book. It it packed with details and explains an unforgettable journey that will be engraved in your mind for years. You know that people can actually go through these horrible tradegies and it makes you more grateful. This book is a piece of fine work and everyone should read it. I think it takes maturity to read it, but I coped.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2007

    Wow. I mean, WOW.

    This is an extremely good book. It has such surrealism and such a feeling that is indescribable how incredible it is to experience. Mourlevat's tale of traveling along the French countryside is compelling enough to read in one sitting, but will be reeling through your head for the next few weeks afterwards. Yann Doutreleau, an unusually small child of 12, and his six brothers - all twins - are subjected to poverty and rooming two or three to a bed. He and his brothers leave for the ocean one night after he overhears a death threat from his father. Cue many unusual and slightly humorous events. The book is told through the perspectives of many people along the journey, such as the six brothers, a truck driver, a grocer, and a novelist. Not until the end does the mysterious Yann give his perspective. The atmosphere is thick with originality. the tone is enforced very early on, and provides a great atmosphere for the novel. The only real problem is the brevity of so much of it. While prose is present, it doesn't exist through the entire book, and leaves the reader wanting more. However, this is not a major concern, and is merely based on a personal preference for longer books. All in all, it is well worth the 13 dollars or so, and I highly recommend this to any fan of surrealism or French literature. I am waiting for a French on one side, English on the other version, as this would help me thoroughly in my foreign language class.

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