The Death Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean

A delightful and whimsical book that highlights the power and wonder of imagination.
The Death Defying Pepper Roux book cover

Book of the Year 2009 (see all)

When Pepper Roux was born his aunt foretold that he would not live past 14 years of age. Throughout his childhood his parents haven't bothered with him much, knowing that his life would be short-lived. So when Pepper wakes up on his 14th birthday he knows this will be the day that he'll die. But as the day wears on, and Pepper finds himself still alive, he decides to set off to sea in an attempt to try and avoid death for as long as possible. As time goes on Pepper steps into many roles and personas and has numerous outrageous adventures. But can he stay one step ahead of death? Or will fate catch up with him? And, if he does live, which of his many lives will he choose to adopt? This riot of a story is a wonderful adventure, and Pepper is an unforgettable character who stays with you long after his story has been told.

The Death Defying Pepper Roux is a delightful and whimsical book that highlights the power and wonder of imagination. Sometimes authors give us what we want and we are delighted – Geraldine McCaughrean does exactly that, and then adds more for good measure.

If I had to find a comparison in order to describe the book to a complete stranger I would immediately say Amelie. Amelie is a French film, starring Audrey Tautou, and has much in common with this book being French, magical and featuring an endearing and innocent central lead.

The individual threads of the story are beautifully woven together. This is a charming book, often surreal, always humorous but with an underlying darkness that often shows man’s - and to a much lesser extent, woman’s – inherent cruelty, often casual but nevertheless evident.

McCaughrean also has a gift when it comes to causality. The consequences of everything that Pepper says and does are shown brilliantly.

Pepper Roux is a boy that every reader will warm to. There is not a bad bone in his body and his treatment at the hands of some truly despicable adults will have readers feeling righteous indignation. As the last pages draw closer you hope that Pepper will get the happy ending that he deserves.

Philip Pullman and JK Rowling have produced books that have thrilled and delighted younger readers; books that have sold millions of copies. McCaughrean is a better author than Rowling and Pullman put together;  she has a mastery over words. Please don’t think I am being uncharitable to Rowling and Pullman – their books have resulted in youngsters reading again and they both deserve honours for what they have achieved - it’s just that writers like Geraldine McCaughrean and Michael Morpurgo are masters of their craft.

This is a book I will never forget. Highly recommended for older children and young adults.

Geraldine McCaughrean was born in 1951 and brought up in North London. She studied at Christ Church College of Education, Canterbury and worked in a London publishing house for 10 years before becoming a full-time writer in 1988. She has written over 120 books, 50 short plays for schools, and a radio play. Her adult novels include Fires’ Astonishment (1990) and The Ideal Wife (1997), but she is best-known for her children’s books. She writes for children of all ages, from first readers, picture books, and younger children’s books, to children’s novels, which include A Little Lower than the Angels (1987), Gold Dust (1993) and Not the End of the World (2004), each of which have won the Whitbread Children’s Book Award, making her the only writer to have won this award three times. Geraldine McCaughrean has also written several collections of stories, including bible stories and fairy tales. She specialises in the retelling of classic tales such as The Canterbury Tales (1984), The Odyssey (1993), Moby Dick (1996) and El Cid (1989) and of myths and legends from around the world. These books include The Orchard Book of Greek Myths (1992) and The Orchard Book of Roman Myths (1999). Geraldine McCaughrean lives in Berkshire. Her book, Not the End of the World, is currently being adapted for the stage. White Darkness (2005), was shortlisted for the 2005 Whitbread Children's Book Award. In 2005, she was chosen to write the official sequel to J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan. Peter Pan in Scarlet was published in 2006.

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The Death Defying Pepper Roux reader reviews

from Manchester


It's so bad and JK Rowling is better than her.

from US


Great, funny book, one of my favorites

from Sussex


This story that follows Pepper from his ill-omened fourteenth birthday through numerous escapades is a little gem. I had not come across any of McCaughrean's work before but I will certainly be reading more in the future. Pepper is a lovely lead, a boy that is impossible not to warm too, and he is ably supported by a delightful array of memorable characters. A wonderful story from a gifted author.

7.6/10 from 4 reviews

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