Hands up if you love a good life affirming book? You know, the kind that makes you remember all the good things in life. If your hand is raised (you can put it down now) then Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais should hurtle to the top of your TBR pile. Here’s why:
I’ll admit that when I first saw the premise of this book; three ugly girls take a bike trip I was a little sceptical. Please, I thought. Do not make this another one of those, girl takes glasses off and everyone realises she’s gorgeous and should be popular. It might be a pet peeve of mine, but as a glasses wearer that trope always feels old to me.
Luckily, Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais proved me wrong in all the best ways, with a wink and a knowing smile to that familiar trope. This funny, effervescent, bittersweet and relevant book made me laugh and (almost) cry. It seems I’m not alone in my praise either, this book is gaining all sorts of praise and is the winner of France’s biggest prize for Young Adult fiction. There’s even whispers about it being nominated for the Carnegie prize.
‘Awarded the Gold, Silver and Bronze trotters after a vote by their classmates on Facebook, Mireille, Astrid and Hakima are officially the three ugliest girls in their school, but does that mean they’re going to sit around crying about it?
Well… yes, a bit, but not for long! Climbing aboard their bikes, the trio set off on a summer road trip to Paris, their goal: a garden party with the French president. As news of their trip spreads they become stars of social media and television. With the eyes of the nation upon them the girls find fame, friendship and happiness, and still have time to consume an enormous amount of food along the way.’
What is it about?
Originally published in French, and re-published in English by Pushkin Press, this book feels different to many others in a similar genre. It might seem strange, but it felt unmistakably French to me. This is one of the things I love about reading literature in translation. It’s not just a good book, it’s an insight into a different culture. And a reminder that despite our differences many of the same themes unite us all.
In Piglettes, Clementine Beauvais tackles cyber bullying with a secondary message about the pressures of beauty facing young girls. This could be a recipe for disaster, but Clementine Beauvais deftly avoids over-sentimentality here. The book reminded me of how it felt to be a teenager in a small place. It’s a fresh, insightful reminded of what it feels like to be a teenager. All of us want to be liked on some level.
What I appreciated was how this book showed that; even the ‘bad-guy’ was motivated by this basic desire. Finding your place and staying true to yourself can sometimes feel like conflicting goals. One invites us to stay with the crowd the other impels us to strive towards individuality. This book explores that and how sometimes, it is negative actions that drive us towards positive changes. Despite being bracketed into a slightly confining ‘coming of age’ story, I really feel that there’s something in the book for everybody. Plus, it’s genuinely funny.
Why you should read Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais
From the start I loved Mireille. She is the driving force of the book and her self-deprecating, often acerbic, wit was at once funny and bittersweet. Her strong character and sarcasm are her best assets, and from one cheese lover to another, I appreciated her lavish dedication to the finer foods in life! Was she occasionally annoying? Yes! Was she misguided sometimes? Certainly! Still, it was the combination of bravado, creeping sadness and also confidence that mixed together to create a fascinating character.
I loved how Clementine Beauvais managed to get all of this across in the character of Mireille. She so desperately wants to appear un-bothered by the pig pageant. There was a touching air of vulnerability to her that made up for her otherwise slightly hostile exterior. In short, she was a character who I wanted to get to know. Her motivations weren’t always transparent, even to herself, but ultimately I felt that I’d like to be her friend.
How can a book that tackles, racism, feminism, sexism and disability discrimination manage to be so up-lifting? It shouldn’t be possible and yet Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais manages it with panache. I loved this book, and I am sure you will too.
What do you think? Will Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais make it onto your reading list?