Review: Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell


Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

Sophie was found floating in a cello case after a shipwreck, scooped out of the water by a fellow passenger, Charles, who became her guardian.  He was a single man and a scholar, and unlikely to be a suitable parent, but the two of them got along perfectly well.  The Welfare Agency did pursue the two of them and it finally got so bad that the two fled to Paris before Sophie could be sent to an orphanage.  Sophie knew that her mother was still alive although everyone else thought she was dead.  And her guardian always taught her to never ignore a possible.  So they searched Paris for her mother, following the clue she found in the cello case.  There she met Matteo, a boy who appeared in her skylight and led her to a world of the rooftops.  Together they search the roofs of Paris for the sound of her mother’s cello.  But how long can Sophie search before she is caught by the authorities?

Rundell writes so beautifully, it is impossible not to stop and linger over her phrases.  She uses unusual metaphors like “…he held her in his large hands – at arm’s length, as he would a leaky flowerpot…”  She also paints gorgeous images of her characters, “Think of nighttime with a speaking voice.  Or think how moonlight might talk, or think of ink, if ink had vocal chords.”  And she also vividly shows how characters think, “Mothers are a thing you need, like air, she thought, and water.  Even paper mothers were better than nothing – even imaginary ones.  Mothers were a place to put down your heart.  They were a resting stop to recover your breath.”  I could go on and on with quotes, since her entire novel is filled with moments like this.

Sophie and Charles are great characters, entirely unique and quirky.  At first they are living in a normal society where they don’t fit at all and the tension between them and normalcy is finely conveyed.  It is when she reaches the rooftops of Paris though that the book becomes pure quicksilver magic.  Impossible to put down, one wishes that they too could climb to the rooftops of Paris in the confident hands of Matteo, who is also a vivid and amazing character.

Profoundly original and filled with shining prose, this novel is a wondrous read.  Appropriate for ages 11-13.  Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Simon & Schuster.