This is the view from my roof. Inspired by a recent read, I pulled out the ladder and propped open the hatch. From here I can see the entire neighborhood, and if you stand in the right place, the city skyline appears like a toy model through a dip in the trees.
I thought this might be a good place to write about Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. I was charmed by this magical middle-grade novel set primarily on the rooftops of Paris.
Sophie was found floating in a cello case on her first birthday by Charles, a rather singular and gentle academic. Twelve years later, the very Victorian Child Services decides that Charles is an unsuitable guardian for Sophie and the two take the opportunity to flee to Paris to find Sophie’s mother. Despite the fact that no female survivors were found in the shipwreck that cast Sophie into the English Channel, Sophie knows in her heart that her mother is still alive.
Using the shop label in the cello case as their first clue, Sophie and Charles search Paris, Charles on the ground and Sophie, unexpectedly, on the rooftops. With the help of Matteo, a orphan boy who lives high above street level, and his sky-dwelling friends, Sophie chases cello music across the city in search of her mother.
Rundell’s language is evocative, funny, and slightly dreamy. While she doesn’t avoid the grime of the roofs, the dangers the Rooftoppers face, or disarray of Sophie’s home, they are part and parcel of the magic of Sophie’s world. She just sees things a little differently. Dirt isn’t important; self-respect is. Housekeeping comes second to beautifully bound books. Combs are optional; tea and cookies are not. And you never ignore a possibility.
Sophie is sweet and curious and persistent. She loves trousers and playing the cello. Her hair is the “color of lightning” and tends to go into knots, and she has no idea why anyone would care what she wears. When evaluating the color of the lining of the cello case, she decides that the color is a good omen because “It was the green that emeralds and dragons usually come in….”
Her guardian, Charles, is quietly thoughtful and thoroughly disinterested in convention for convention’s sake. He is devoted to Sophie, to the point that he sews trousers for her himself when he is unable to find them in stores. He teaches Sophie with Shakespeare, speaks French to cats, and uses toast as a bookmark. Rundell describes him, as he finds the floating baby Sophie, this way: “Think of night-time with a speaking voice. Or think how moonlight might talk, or think of ink, if ink had vocal chords.”
The ending comes suddenly but seems right for this musical book, a swelling crescendo that drops to a soft, twinkling Fine.