It isn’t easy being the youngest child. And for Isidore Mazal, being the youngest is further complicated by the five people ahead of him. The elder Mazal kids are smarter than average—perhaps genius-level smart—and while he’s no slouch, Isidore has yet to skip a grade. He doesn’t love to read and thinks it’s weird when his siblings deploy “hopeful borrowing”—taking a book and hoping the owner won’t notice, thereby making the book property of the borrower.
Sometimes this odd-man-out mentality leaves the 11-year-old ready to run. He’ll pack his things and plot a way to escape from his family. Hopefully they’ll lift their noses from their books long enough to notice he’s gone. But if he isn’t there, who will notice them?
In her first English-language novel, French writer Camille Bordas examines a lost family from its youngest member’s point of view. Isidore observes his siblings at great length. Simone, only 18 months his elder, assigns him the task of writing her biography. It’s a job that requires him to ask many questions of his sister. Isidore extends his examination to others around him and begins to notice the things that go unsaid. His only friend, Denise, is obviously depressed and anorexic. Isidore turns to his German teacher, Herr Coffin, for insight into the field. It turns out Coffin isn’t so wild about teaching—Isidore’s chosen profession—after all. The Mazal family neighbor Daphne Marlott is poised to become the oldest living woman in the world when the two Indian women older than her die. After she becomes his German conversation partner, Isidore learns a long life may not be everything it seems.
Bordas draws complex characters who face the challenging and sometimes mundane issues of daily life. In the process, she prompts readers to look within.