How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas
(Crown Publishing – August 15, 2017)
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Quirky, French, intellectual and like no other story I have read in recent memory.
Thanks to Crown Publishing for providing me with a free finished copy of this book for review purposes – all opinions are my own.
Book Description (from Goodreads)
Isidore Mazal is eleven years old, the youngest of six siblings living in a small French town. He doesn’t quite fit in. Berenice, Aurore, and Leonard are on track to have doctorates by age twenty-four. Jeremie performs with a symphony, and Simone, older than Isidore by eighteen months, expects a great career as a novelist–she’s already put Isidore to work on her biography. The only time they leave their rooms is to gather on the old, stained couch and dissect prime-time television dramas in light of Aristotle’s Poetics.
Isidore has never skipped a grade or written a dissertation. But he notices things the others don’t, and asks questions they fear to ask. So when tragedy strikes the Mazal family, Isidore is the only one to recognize how everyone is struggling with their grief, and perhaps the only one who can help them if he doesn’t run away from home first.
Isidore’s unstinting empathy, combined with his simmering anger, makes for a complex character study, in which the elegiac and comedic build toward a heartbreaking conclusion. With How to Behave in a Crowd, Camille Bordas immerses readers in the interior life of a boy puzzled by adulthood and beginning to realize that the adults around him are just as lost.
You know how sometimes you just fall into a book and mark almost every single page and feel like this book was written FOR you? That’s how I felt with this one. I had zero expectations going into it and was pleasantly surprised to be so captivated by this coming-of-age story narrated by a French preteen boy. I mean, who’d have thought this was my genre? I absolutely loved this family with all of their self-recognized pretentiousness, PhDs, dissertation defenses, their father they refer to as “the father”, and most of all their mother. Oh, the mother. She is my new parenting hero with her gazillion kids and blatant love for them mixed in with benign neglect (this term being used in the most loving way). She says all the things I want to say in the way I want to say them – she’s perfect.
And the children as a group reminds me, strangely, of my favorite childhood fictional family – The Melendy’s of the Elizabeth Enright series. You know, THE SATURDAYS, THE FOUR STORY MISTAKE, etc. And if you don’t know that series, well, that might explain it if you don’t love HOW TO BEHAVE IN A CROWD as much as I do. I folded corners over on the majority of the book for passages I want to go back and savor and quotes I need to remember.
This was a very personal favorite read for me, and I know it’s definitely not for everyone. But if you know and love (or know and hate) academia, and love France and innocent/astute observations on life, death and knowledge, grab a copy of this. If you’re like me, you’ll want it on your forever bookshelf.