Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell – Advance Review


Book Jacket:

Embrace possibility in this luminous novel about a girl in search of her past who discovers a secret rooftop world in Paris.

Everyone thinks that Sophie is an orphan. True, there were no other recorded female survivors from the shipwreck that left baby Sophie floating in the English Channel in a cello case, but Sophie remembers seeing her mother wave for help. Her guardian tells her it is almost impossible that her mother is still alive – but “almost impossible” means “still possible.” And you should never ignore a possible.

So when the Welfare Agency writes to her guardian, threatening to send Sophie to an orphanage, she takes matters into her own hands and flees to Paris to look for her mother, starting with the only clue she has – the address of the cello maker.

Evading the French authorities, she meets Matteo and his network of rooftoppers – urchins who live in the hidden spaces above the city. Together they scour the city in a search for Sophie’s mother – but can they find her before Sophie is caught and sent back to London? Or, more importantly, before she loses hope?


A tale of wonder, adventure and love, this is a lovely book indeed.

So it might sound like a familiar story – an orphan who sets out in search of her mother – but the joy of Rooftoppers is in how gently unexpected it turns out to be. You see, Sophie is not alone in the world at all – in fact, she has a somewhat unconventional adoptive father named Charles, a gentle soul who loves her very much. And as she grows up in their decidedly improper home – where Charles lets Sophie wear trousers and play her cello on the roof – Sophie is happy and content. Indeed, the only wrinkle in their adorably oddball domestic bliss comes in the form of Britain’s social services – whom determinedly decide that Charles is no fit guardian for a soon-to-be-young-lady. And so Sophie flees the machinery of State, off in search of her mother – but the joy of this story is that, far from going it alone, instead Charles absconds right alongside her. And so rather than be parted, they sail for Paris together.

And just like that, this book melted my innards into a happy puddle of goo – because how often do you find, in a tale of orphan-ly adventure, a parent who won’t be left behind? And how on earth can you not love Charles for it? And even though, as matters progress, Sophie and Charles do separate in their search – Charles taking to the streets and Sophie to the rooftops – Charles is always a part of this story, and even better, when Sophie hares off to have adventures on her own, he trusts her, and even has an adventure or two of his own to make sure she’s quite alright. And it was that brilliant simplicity, of having a loving, oddball father along for the ride, that made me fall in love with this story – because, after all, just because a girl needs her mother, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t need her father too.

But of course, adorable fathers aside, this book is still very much a tale of adventure, as Sophie’s search takes her to the rooftop kingdoms of Paris, where she discovers another world, one strange and dangerous and populated with misplaced children just like her. And as she makes friends and foes, and engages in daily gravity-defying feats, there is always more to explore, more to see, as she climbs higher and dangles farther, which all brings a delightful sense of discovery and wonder to this book.

Really I have only one tiny nay-say against this story, and that is in regards to its very straightforwardness. Like many a travelogue, this story paces steadily towards its finale – and while I enjoyed the journey very much, I did find myself wishing for perhaps a beat or two more of struggle, of uncertainty, particularly towards the end – because while this book is earnest and engaging and adorable, it is also perhaps just a hair too even, a smidgen too level, as it closes in on its finale. But still, I defy anyone not to have their heart warmed by this tale.

So in the end, this story is like a warm hug – all velvety ambiance, heart, and possibilities. And, as Charles would tell you, you should never ignore a possible.

Byrt Grade: A

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Kirkus Reviews (starred review) says:

This witty, inventively poetic, fairy-tale–like adventure shimmers with love, magic and music.

Publishers Weekly (starred review) says:

While the children’s uncanny survival skills take occasionally graphic turns, as in a brutal fight between rooftopper tribes, the beauty of sky, music, and the belief in “extraordinary things” triumph in this whimsical and magical tale.