Initially the storyline of this book is quite shocking, and then one realizes that this is today’s world and this is how it is. Mireille is the narrator of this teenage story which begins with her discovery that she has come third in the pig pageant contest. This is a competition to select the ugliest girls in school, run by a male student, and voted for by other students on Facebook. Mireille was described as having a “fat blubbery bum, droopy breasts, a potato shaped chin and tiny porcine eyes.”
After such an awful beginning, we gradually see that Mireille is able to live with this disastrous naming. The fact that her mother is a philosophy teacher, and has raised her daughter to be an un-emotive, rational thinking young woman helps enormously. The young girls who came first and second in the competition come to visit Mireille; they become friendly and decide that they have a common goal. That is to get to Paris for the Independence Day celebrations. The girls decide that they will cycle to Paris from the town of Bourg-en-Bresse where they live.
At first it seems such an outrageous proposition, but with clear reasoning they borrow a trailer, three bikes and the help of Hakima’s brother, Kader. The girls, Mireille, Astrid, and Hakima have an attachment made for their bikes to tow the trailer, and Kader who lost his legs in the war, has a wheelchair. To raise money, the girls have enlisted grandparents help to make sausages which they can store in the fridge and sell at each stop.
The journey becomes one of overcoming trials and stitch, but the girls and Kader persevere. A journalist from their home town is writing a running newspaper article about the girls, and they become celebrities as they travel along. Many people wave and befriend the piglettes as they cycle along the paths toward Paris. The man who began the pig pageant is so angry that they have found happiness and fame, that he visits them at night and slashes the tyres of their bikes. This works in their favour as a local bicycle repairman renews their bikes and the attachment to the trailer, making it lighter to tow.
At no stage is there any hate or animosity shown towards the perpetrators of this indignity. Indeed, the girls are so focused on getting to Paris that it is not foremost in their minds. Mireille wants to confront the Presidents husband, Astrid wants to hear the music group she loves, and Hakima wants to confront the general, the man who was responsible for her brother losing his legs, who is getting a bravery medal.
This is an uplifting story, and again, one that is quite shocking, but also quite possible in today’s world of cyber bullying. The disregard shown by the girls towards their attacker, and the elation they feel when they reach Paris and achieve their goals is wonderful. The writing is simple, clear and precise; the story unfolds at its own pace, and with gentle humour. I hope this becomes a go to book for teenage girls.
|Publisher||Faber Factory/Pushkin Children's|