“I don’t understand why you insist on calling yourselves the Three Little Piglettes,” Mum groans. “It’s a horrible name.”
“We’ll make it beautiful, you’ll see. Or better, we’ll make it powerful.”
After taking out the top three spots in the ‘Pig Pageant’, a school ugliness contest run on social media, three girls embark on an impulsive road trip to Paris, by bike. They tow a trailer behind them and sell sausages in the towns they visit en route, thus covering the cost of the journey. Their ultimate destination is the Elysée Palace where they plan to gatecrash a prestigious garden party. All members of the group have their reasons for wanting to be there. Mireille Laplanche hopes to meet her biological father, who is married to the French President. Astrid Blomvall is intent on seeing her favorite rock band, Indochine, perform at the party. Hakima Idriss, wants General Sassin, who is due to be awarded a medal, to take responsibility for the deaths of soldiers in an ambush where her brother lost both his legs. The same brother, Kader, takes on the role of chaperone for the unlikely trio’s cycling adventure.
Yes, it is rather an extraordinary plot with plenty of crazy antics to enjoy along the way, including an alcohol-infused karaoke session at a college ball and a detour to Sancerre so that Mireille can stuff herself with Crottin de Chavignol. If readers don’t know what this specialty cheese is at the start of the story, they certainly will by the end! Local food and culture are celebrated throughout this YA novel, which retains a very French feel throughout.
Mireille, who narrates the story, has a unique voice: sassy, direct and assertive. Her often hilarious narrative and witty observations are interspersed with news articles about the piglettes’ progress and social media commentary, making this a very contemporary read. Mireille may not be to everyone’s liking, but I warmed to her, especially when her underlying vulnerability was revealed. For all her bravado, this 15-year-old teen is sensitive about her weight and appearance and deeply hurt by her father’s rejection.
Under the humor, author and translator Clémentine Beauvais packs in some important issues, including feminism, race, disability, bullying and perceptions of beauty. Piglettes is, in many ways, a story based on deep-rooted individual and societal struggles. It is also a celebration of the individual strengths that surface and friendship that develops as the piglettes and Kader eat up the kilometers between their hometown and Paris. As they progress, the group grow with each other in mutual understanding ; they laugh and cry together; they deal with the challenges that their adventure and their fears present. And they grow in popularity, although this comes, of course, with its share of pressure and negative comments from the public.
Ultimately, however, Piglettes is a gloriously life-affirming read, where friendship and individuality prove more powerful than negative perceptions and insults, and where self-acceptance provides the opportunity for personal growth and discovery.
Piglettes was originally published in French under the title Les Petites Reines by Editions Sarbacane, 2014.
Piglettes written by Clémentine Beauvais
Translated from French by the author
Pushkin Press, 2017
Awards: 2019 Global Literature in Libraries YA Book Prize Honor Book; Prix Sorcières 2016 (French edition)
Laura Taylor is the founder of world children’s literature blog Planet Picture Book. She is a small business copywriter, NAATI-certified translator of French into English and member of AUSIT and IBBY Australia. When she is not writing, she is reading, and chasing after her two young children. She tweets regularly @plapibo and posts at www.planetpicturebook.com