ELS librarian Sarah reviews Katherine Rundell’s modern classic Rooftoppers.
This award-winning novel did not disappoint. The story is of Sophie and her guardian Charles, both survivors of the sinking of the Queen Mary, and their quest to find her mother and avoid the authority’s attempts to place Sophie in an orphanage.
The book is quirky and imaginative, the characters eccentric but believable. Sophie was discovered by Charles floating in a cello case. Charles takes care of Sophie and brings her up in a loving but unconventional way; he dresses her in boy’s clothes, encourages writing on wallpaper and allows eating off books, but more than anything he teaches her to always believe in a possibility. Shortly after her twelfth birthday and reacting to news that the authorities have decided she should be placed in an orphanage and separated from Charles, Sophie smashes her treasured cello case and discovers a clue to her mother’s whereabouts: a maker’s label for Paris.
Sophie and Charles flee to Paris where they hope to solve the mystery of her mother’s whereabouts. Whilst Charles and Sophie first pursue official channels to no avail, a chance meeting with Matteo, one of the orphan children who inhabit the rooftops of Paris, leads Sophie on a high level adventure, overcoming fears and learning the skills needed to traverse the streets and landmarks and to eventually find her mother.
This atmospheric novel really transports you to a world that you could imagine exists, an alternative rooftop world. You feel the fear of Sophie as she plucks up the courage to jump from one rooftop to the next. Matteo’s character and his fellow ‘rooftoppers’ live on the edge in all senses, surviving on what food they can scrounge and avoiding the streets at all costs for fear of being caught in a country where it is illegal to be homeless. There are some dark moments particularly when Matteo, Sophie and her friends fight off the ‘gariers’, the boys who live in the railway station roofs however ultimately the story concludes, too quickly for the reader, with Sophie and her mother happily reunited on a Paris rooftop.
A book of parallel worlds, imagination, love and determination. A great read for Upper Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3.