Off the Beaten Path by Mylis Dekerangal, illustrated by Tom Haugomat. Greystone Kids, 2021. 9781771646857
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
Genre: Picture book
What did you like about the book? A young boy (aged 10 and named Paul) goes off into the snowy mountains, presumably the Alps, with Bruce, who has reappeared at his uncle’s house after three years to take him on an adventure. The boy is longing for something, doesn’t want to talk about his parents, doesn’t have confidence, but then Bruce has a tragic accident in a crevice they have climbed into, the boy must find help. Death lingers in this book, from what happened to his parents, to spending time in word and pictures on the black cross that commemorates lives lost on the mountains, to Bruce’s accident which it is unclear for a time if he will survive. The illustrations are graphic, beautiful in their starkness and the color palette uses shades of blue and red, representing this snowy world in dynamic movement. Though the people do not have faces, the characters leave an impression long after finishing. The illustrations are certainly the star of this book and this becomes more clear when the endnote points out the illustrations were done first and the author put them in an order to create the written story around them. The whole experience could be phrased as haunting.
Anything you didn’t like about it? There are holes in the story that feel unfinished, such as what happened to the boy’s parents and the narrative skips between events that the boy would like to have happen or did happen and what is currently happening, leaving the reader unsure of timing. Additionally, it is a bit unclear what the relationship between Bruce and the boy is by just reading the story and I wondered why they were out in the woods alone together at times. The boy’s name is only revealed on the back publisher’s description as well as his age and the relationship with Bruce. Additionally, the way the book was written backwards with the pictures first, is explained on the last page after the author bio, which many readers will probably miss.
To whom would you recommend this book? This book style feels like a picture book but is written for a more elementary school aged audience.
Who should buy this book? Public libraries
Where would you shelve it ? Picture Books/Older Picture Books/Fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? It is an interesting experimental way to construct a book and different from others so, yes.
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Clare Dombrowski, Amesbury Public Library, Amesbury, MA
Date of review: December 10, 2021