The Biggest Poutine in the World by Andrée Poulin is a cute, enjoyable, surprisingly emotional book about poutine and a world record attempt. I wish that the book had not ended so abruptly but it has a fantastic message and sympathetic and well-developed characters.
Our hero is twelve year old Thomas. His Mom disappeared on his fifth birthday. Dad has become withdrawn. Thomas feels abandoned. He develops a plan to put together the biggest poutine in the world in the hope that the attention that will draw will somehow lure his Mom back into his life. Three things gave me pause.
The book is loaded with sympathetic, supportive, decent real people who help and guide Thomas in the right direction. Thomas has a best friend, Sam, who is a real kid but is in fact a best friend. Thomas is extorted into taking on lonely Elie as a poutine project partner, and she turns out to be a lively, no-nonsense breath of fresh air. Sam’s Mom, the city’s mayor, Elie’s Mom, and even the French Fry Guy are all adults who can see what’s going on and provide gentle guidance and support. Finally, even Dad shows some spine. The effect of all of this is never sappy; it’s upbeat and kind.
Thomas is insightful and the tale is told with great humor. As to Thomas, who narrates, we get a kid who may not be “real”, but he feels real. I would suspect almost any middle grade reader would like and identify with this kid, which is most of the battle right there. Thomas has been dealt a bad hand, (his sense of abandonment, misplaced guilt, and anger is palpable, but he soldiers on pretty gamely and you root for him to get it together when his resolve wavers.
And, there is some very funny stuff that keeps us out of grim and depressing territory. The whole poutine project is a goof. Thomas and Sam have some great exchanges. Elie has a dry and deadpan style that keeps Thomas honest. A subplot involving the mayor’s parrot, (don’t ask), adds some slapstick. And behind it all you sense an author with a great command of the light and the dark and a good sense of how to ration them both out.
The upshot is that this is an honest, entertaining and very engaging story that I think would challenge, amuse and possibly touch a young reader. That’s a nice combination.
I received this book from Annick Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review