Crown Publishing Group: American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee

Louis Undercover

Following a successful partnership in the publication of Jane, the Fox and Me, writer Fanny Britt and illustrator Isabelle Arsenault have teamed up again for a second middle-grade graphic novel. Louis Undercover follows a boy from a broken home, who, with his little brother, Truffle, splits time between his alcoholic father and protective mother. Louis is a perceptive child, recognizing that his dad cries in the same way "a dog barks" or "a cat meows."

On his apartment balcony, Louis and his best friend, Boris, spy on cars to find ghost cops: "Is he wearing a trench coat? Undercover cops always wear trench coats." Boris also encourages Louis to talk to his secret love, Billie, whom Louis sees as "a spectacled siren, a rainstorm, a chocolate fountain, a silent queen." But mostly he admires her bravery when she stands up to bullies--Louis is acutely aware of his own lack of courage.

When events bring Louis's family together for a trip to New York City, "the big city swallows [them] up for four golden, milkshake-filled days." But the perfection cannot last.

Britt's words, eloquently translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou from the original French, read as authentic preteen wisdom unfiltered by adult experience or cynicism. Arsenault's illustrations complement the text with powerful use of color and texture, conveying emotion better than words could. Louis Undercover forgoes preaching to deliver a subtly complex, beautifully honest story about the meaning of bravery. --Jen Forbus, freelancer