Hakima sighs. ‘I wish … I wish there was a way to go to that garden party, to tell the truth about Sassin, to scream it to all the journalists, to make them see…’
‘Hakima,’ growls the Sun.
At the same time, Astrid murmurs, ‘I wish … I wish I could see that Indochine gig …’
And I’m also whispering, ‘And I … I also have a reason, of sorts, to wish I could be there …’
Funny reason. Diverse, but … related reasons to be their, on the 14th of July, to interrupt their annual fiesta and yes, why not, to remind them we exist.
And while we’re at it, we may as well do it with a bit of … panache, right?
(Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais. P44.)
Mireille wants to shame the father who has never acknowledged her existence. The father who happens to be married to the president of France. Hakima wants to expose the General who has accepted a prestigious award, when he could have prevented the attack which left her brother disabled and traumatised. Astrid wants to declare her love for Indochine – the best band in the world.
So what if the girls have won the Trotters – the award for the ugliest girls in school, organised online by Mireille’s ex-friend Malo. Mireille isn’t going to cry about it. Not when the Bastille celebrations in Paris provide an opportunity for all three girls to achieve their real ambitions.
With the help of three bikes, a trailer full of sausages and Hakima’s 26 year-old brother Kader, the girls set off for Paris. Social Media interest builds up, and soon the girls are a press sensation.
Will the girls fulfil their ambitions in Paris? Will their ambitions even be the same by the time they reach the Bastille? A feel-good, feminist read.
I loved this book. Mireille, Astrid and Hakima are super-realistic teenagers, with big hearts and individual flaws. Think Annabel Pitcher. Mireille’s voice is witty, observant and unerringly honest. Mireille uses humour to hide her feelings. People will think she is fine if she makes them laugh.
The main theme is a feminist narrative. Marlo believes his Pig Pageant is an opportunity for girls to realise they have let themselves go. Like many males before him, he believes girls have a duty to look good for the boys around them. Marlo’s story is interesting. He was friends with Mireille until the end of primary school, where people started to tease him for hanging around with an ugly girl. I’m sure more than one reader will relate to this story, and question whether boys have the right to judge girls on their appearance the second they hit adolescence.
There is also some interesting exploration of race and disability discrimination. Hakima and Kader face casual racism daily. Fewer people buy sausages when Hakima and Kader serve, and an elderly lady assures them it isn’t their fault they aren’t white. After all, she says, people come in all colours these days. Likewise, where a newspaper article introduces the girls by name, Kader is written off as a disabled man. Beauvais is excellent at exploring a theme without throwing it in the reader’s face. Many of these comments are incidental – the reader is left to challenge them. Kader is an excellent character. He is not defined by his disability, but his situation means he hasn’t yet adapted to the implications of his condition. This allows the reader to see the challenges Kader faces without turning his disability into a trope.
Pushkin publishes international fiction. One of the great things about their books is reading about other cultures. Piglettes is set in France, and there is a particular focus on the pressure for perfection piled on Middle Class women. There are also descriptions of French cuisine which will make your mouth water. This is a wonderful contrast. Mireille firmly believes there is no point trying to stay slim when you live alongside such wonderful cuisine.
How can a book which encompasses sexism, racism and disability discrimination be uplifting? The focus of the story is about overcoming other people’s opinions. The fictional press take to the Piglettes for this exact reason – everybody relates to the ‘revenge’ narrative. Three girls are told they are ugly, so they set out on a phenomenal journey, and promise to achieve great things. If that isn’t uplifting, I’ve got two pink ears and a curly tail.