Louis Undercover by Fanny Britt (review)
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Reviewed by
Britt, Fanny Louis Undercover; tr. from the French by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou; illus. by Isabelle Arsenault. Groundwood, 2017 160p
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-55498-859-4 $19.95
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-55498-860-0 $16.95 R* Gr. 5-9

Louis knows that his father cries because he drinks too much, and he knows that his father’s alcoholism is why Louis, his brother, Truffle, and his mother had to move to the city. When he visits his dad in the country, he’s haunted by his father’s sad, romantic visions of idealized lost love. This is part of the reason why he can’t bring himself to talk to Billie, the girl of his dreams; if love never works out, what’s the point? His father tries to give up drinking and draw the family back together, and it almost works, but he relapses. Britt pulls no punches here as she charts the effects parental alcoholism might have on a sensitive young boy; as he watches his father enter the detox center, Louis says, “What I see in his eyes right then, / something like an earthquake or drowning, / makes me think that I might have to be like him and drink all kinds of wine to forget.” However, hope returns as Louis finally musters the courage to approach Billie, even if he can’t say all that’s in his heart. As she did with Jane, the Fox and Me (BCCB 11/13), illustrator Arsenault brilliantly captures the emotional spirit of the story in this graphic narrative. The everyday scenes are rendered in wistful grayscale pencil and ink, with Louis’ memories and his father’s sadness in faded turquoise while his images of Billie and hope explode into cheerful yellow. The panels lack defined borders, giving the impression of a drifty flow that matches Louis’ inner musings, and significant scenes are given full double-page spreads to heighten their emotional impact. In addition, the lively Truffle has the most clearly defined features, subtly suggesting that he has yet to [End Page 110] be worn down by his father’s sadness. The result is a graceful exploration of the frightening fragility and tentative resilience of preteen boys.

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