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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
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
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.
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.
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Laurel Leaf. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Condition: New. 0385736665 New Condition. Seller Inventory # NEW7.1060925