Monday 2 November 2015

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English ocean. 

Pages - 278
Published by Faber and Faber

Everyone thinks that Sophie is an orphan. True, there were no other recorded female survivors from the shipwreck which left baby Sophie floating in the English Channel in a cello case, but Sophie remembers seeing her mother wave for help. Her guardian tells her it is almost impossible that her mother is still alive, but that means still possible. You should never ignore a possible. So when the Welfare Agency writes to her guardian threatening to send Sophie to an orphanage, she takes matters into her own hands and flees to Paris to look for her mother, starting with the only clue she has - the address of the cello maker. Evading the French authorities, she meets Matteo and his network of rooftoppers - urchins who live in the sky. Together they scour the city for Sophie's mother before she is caught and sent back to London, and most importantly before she loses hope.
What a cracking opening line to a book. What more do you need to capture your curiosity and draw you into the story?
After reading Wolf Wilder, Katherine Rundell's latest novel, I was desperate to read Rooftoppers, as everyone kept telling me how good it was. When I started reading it, I was expecting something similar to Wolf Wilder, however the style was completely different. Rooftoppers has more of a Dahlesque feel to it. It would suit readers who have fallen in love with such characters as Matilda, James and Charlie. The prose is beautiful and almost lyrical at times, making this book such an easy one to read. 
The book isn't defined by any era, but it felt like it was set around the 1920's or 1930's.

Sophie is a really strong character in this book and very likable. She is brought up to believe that she is just as clever, strong and able as any male character. She has a quirky nature and a modern view of life, moulded by her unusual guardian.

I was fascinated by the sub categories of the sky treaders, who feature heavily in the second half of the book. From the gariers to the arbrosiers, their feet barely ever touch the ground.  They make their lives sound exciting, even though they suffer great hardships. They climb iconic buildings such as Notre Dame, claiming them for their own. The sky treaders show such an independence and maturity as they learn to exist without adults. Each child is strong willed and determined, making you wonder what they will be like as adults. Yet they lack the knowledge of who they really are, even down to not knowing their ages. 

The plot is brilliant and so well written. One tiny piece of information in the first few chapters, transforms the story and solves everything for Sophie by the end. 
This story embraces the idea  of being comfortable with who you are, even if you don't know the reality of your past. Sophie is searching for her identity while spending time with characters who have no idea who they really are. 

After reading this book, I came up with a question concerning Sophie's mother. I wondered whether she dressed as a man so that she could be seen as an equal and get a job or was  she the first transgender character in MG novels. After speaking to the author, it appears that the former was the correct answer. However it made me realise that as times change, people's perceptions of what they read will alter too. Readers will see differences in characters as society changes. To me, it was entirely plausible that Sophie's mother could be transgender, because it is so topical at the moment. 

This is a delightfully,uplifting, magical book that brightens your day after reading it. Quite different from The Wolf Wilder, but equally as wonderful. 

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