Title: Louis Undercover
Author: Fanny Britt
Illustrator: Isabelle Arsenault
Publisher: Groundwood Books
Date: October 1, 2017
Plot Synopses (provided by publisher): In this powerful new graphic novel from Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault, we meet Louis, a young boy who shuttles between his alcoholic dad and his worried mom, and who, with the help of his best friend, tries to summon up the courage to speak to his true love, Billie.
Louis’s dad cries — Louis knows this because he spies on him. His dad misses the happy times when their family was together, just as Louis does. But as it is, he and his little brother, Truffle, have to travel back and forth between their dad’s country house and their mom’s city apartment, where she tries to hide her own tears.
Thankfully, Louis has Truffle for company. Truffle loves James Brown lyrics, and when he isn’t singing, he’s asking endless questions. Louis also has his friend Boris, with whom he spots ghost cop cars and spies on the “silent queen,” the love of his life, Billie.
When Louis and Truffle go to their dad’s for two weeks during the summer, their father seems to have stopped drinking. And when Truffle has a close call from a bee sting, their mother turns up and the reunited foursome spend several wonderful days in New York — until they reach the end of the road, again.
A beautifully illustrated, true-to-life portrayal of just how complex family relationships can be, seen through the eyes of a wise, sensitive boy who manages to find his own way forward.
Overall rating: 4/5
Below May Contain Spoilers
Main themes/tropes: kid POV of adult problems, brothers being brothers, alcoholic parent, first crush
Plot: I liked the way that the family’s problems were always boiling away beneath the surface of Louis’ other stories, and that the father’s alcoholism is never really resolved. There’s no happy ending here, and no villains, just people doing the best they can.
Characters: Both of the parents are portrayed sympathetically, though it would have been very easy to cast either or both as the bad guy in this situation. Louis’ crush on Billie also felt very true, and was in fact super cute, and using yellow as her color, with all the hope and light it represents, was great.
Art: The oversized pages seem to lend themselves to big, exaggerated art, but the art is actually subtle. The faces of the characters aren’t drawn very expressively, and the reader has to rely on dialogue and actions to understand all the nuances of how they’re feeling.