In my ongoing quest to read forgotten books from my shelves, I turned to Zazoo, by Richard Mosher. It was published in 2001, so I must have gotten it not too long after. I know my mother gave it to me for Christmas. Though she has excellent taste, I delayed cracking open the beautiful little book. I think at that point in my reading habits I was reading multiple books by an author all at once, and this didn’t quite fit the pattern.
The story takes place in France and is narrated by a 13-year-old girl who was brought from Vietnam as a toddler by her adoptive French grandfather (making this set in the early 1980’s, I believe). They live together in a small village, and operate the locks on the canal. Zazoo dotes on Grand-Pierre, and the little life they have built together, especially the love of poetry that they share. She also feels right at home on the river, always swimming or sailing or skating.
Slowly, however, things begin to change for Zazoo. A smiling boy comes to town, asks about the pharmacist, and leaves again, promising to send a postcard. Grand-Pierre is slowly developing Alzheimer’s, and Zazoo feels he is slipping away from her. She also starts to notice that he never goes into the village or interacts with anyone in it, even sending her to pick up his medicine from the pharmacist.When she presses him for information, however, she realizes she is not sure she wants to know the truth, dating back to when he was a young man and the village was occupied by Nazi’s.
Even at first glance, the book hits all the right notes for me: France, WWII, love stories, and secrets from the past. It is more than that, however. The writing is slow and sweet and beautiful, like the poetry that Zazoo writes. I fell in love with the characters, perhaps Felix most of all, and could clearly picture everything through the lovely imagery. It is a story of healing, and of relationships that can overcome the circumstances.
If you can find a copy, please read it. It does not feel at all like a “typical” young adult book, and Zazoo is old beyond her years. This is definitely one of my favorite books for 2012.