As World Kid Lit Month – the annual celebration of children’s books from across the world – draws to a close, ELS library assistant Rosie reviews Saving Celeste by French writer Timothée de Fombelle. Translated into English by Sarah Ardizzone, Saving Celeste is an example of how translated books can unlock doors, taking readers into new and unexpected places.
Saving Celeste by Timothée de Fombelle (translated by Sarah Ardizzone) is a hopeful and inspiring fable about fighting to change the world in the face of a seemingly all-powerful opposition determined to keep it the same. The main character is a boy who has rarely thought deeply about the world around him, or his place within it, until he is unexpectedly joined in a lift by a girl – Celeste – and the course of his life, his story, and the world itself is changed within a single moment. When Celeste becomes ill, his first instinct is to help her, and he uses whatever means available to him to do so, but things become unexpectedly complicated when omnipresent mega-corporation !ndustry makes her disappear from the hospital he found her a place in.
With few words de Fombelle paints a vivid picture of a dystopia that will resonate even with younger readers as a clear continuation of the society they live in now. They will recognise a world where consumerism flourishes and pollution makes going outside dangerous, and see parallels to our current situation as lives and homes are increasingly threatened by climate change. These threats, and the damage done to the planet, are written across Celeste’s body in a powerful metaphor showing the impact we are having on the earth. !ndustry, a company whose power – like that of many others – rests on popular unwillingness to address the climate crisis, are determined to repress any stories like Celeste’s that may prompt reflections on humanity’s effect on the planet, lest their own business be forced to adapt.
Spurred on by the simple devotion and determination of first love, he risks everything and leaves his life behind to save Celeste – and the planet along with her. The book is shaped around one idea, expressed by a musician who comments on the state of the planet to the main character: “If it was a person, we’d do everything we could to save it.”
Beautifully written and charmingly simple, Saving Celeste is a hopeful tale about both an individual’s power to change things, and how our collective responsibilities to each other and to the earth are one and the same.