I can’t help it.
As a kid, I’ve only read Disney classics sent directly by my aunties from the States, the Ladybird books available at the biggest bookstore chain (The Princess and the Pea was my favorite), The Sweet Valley Twins series loaned to me by a school friend, and a mysterious hardbound book of obscure fairy tales that might have been stolen from a library.
I know Hans Christian Andersen’s Thumbelina, but I haven’t read about Tom Thumb from which Mourlevat based the story of Yann, who is the youngest and twinless of the seven Doutreleau brothers. He is so tiny that he could hide inside a bag and do all sorts of things like steal food from other unwitting bags in the overhead compartment of a train.
The adventures of Yann and his six elder brothers starts on the night that his neglectful and abusive parents argue. Meaning: it was a normal night at the Doutreleaus. Except that Yann is not a normal ten year-old boy living in a French country. He is mute, loves school more than his brothers, and seemed destined to live a sad, tragic life that one can only expect from such impeccable parents.
Mourlevat, a known children’s author in France, structured this modern-day fairy tale using multiple points of view, which I’ve only experienced in GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire. So we read the accounts of people who have met Yann and his brothers at each point in their journey—–the baker, social worker, the grocer, the train passenger, the unemployed jogger, etcetera.
The separate encounters, the bits and pieces of images, alternating with the unique voices of the elder Doutreleau brothers make the story of Yann’s decision to run away from their parents all mysterious and enchanting. My favorite parts will have to be the scenes before and after they board the train, when Yann and his brothers are at their cleverest.
Mourlevat only reveals Yann’s motivations in seeking the ocean in the last chapter of this short story. And dear reader, when you arrive at that page, I promise you, you will not regret in knowing this tiny hero called Yann.