Louis is the nearly 13-year old son of Thelma, a single mom.
After she finally rouses her sleepy Sun King, they make their way to the dreaded weekly brunch with Thelma’s mother. Thelma states, “I didn’t know it yet, but there would be a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ that Saturday, 7 January 2017.”
As they make their way through the crowd, Louis is exasperated by his mother taking a call from work when he is trying to talk to her. He takes off on his skateboard, loses control and crashes into a lorry. The clear blue sky of the Parisian winter day is rent by Thelma’s agonizing scream.
Even though Louis is in a comatose state, he tells the reader early on that he thinks he is dead. He also shares some of the things he loves: soccer, manga, the rapper Maitre Grim, Pokémon YouTube, Granny Odette and his mom (most days).
He is a bright kid whose pals call him a geek because his vocabulary is advanced. Like teens everywhere, he has a keen eye for the incongruities between what adults say and what they do. He also has a sharp sense of humour.
When doctors reluctantly conclude there has been no improvement in the patient’s condition, Thelma fights for her son in a creative way — she will use the notebook in which Louis has written his wish list of adventures to complete before he is too old. She vows to live the adventures Louis has listed, then present the audio-visual account to Louis, bedside.
This may be the key to waking Louis.
The first adventure for Thelma is Tokyo. Thelma marvels from her lux multi-storey hotel at the glittering evening cityscape, feeling for herself what novelist Amelie Nothomb calls “mental defenestration,” the sensation of “jumping into the void.”
Is Thelma up to the other Tokyo challenges — to cross the busiest intersection in the world (Shibuya) as a pedestrian, with eyes closed? To carouse in a karaoke bar? To possibly consume live seafood from a small locals-only type bar and grill?
Louis has many more destinations and daring “to do’s” in his “book of wonders.” The reader is treated to the (mental) reactions of Louis as he is astounded by his mother. In the meantime, the sub-plot of the relationship between Thelma and Odette, her tenacious mother, is heartwarming.
The Book of Wonders is light in tone, considering the topic, easily read in a short session or two and the character of Louis is endearing. The power of a mother’s love resonates in this novel, a good choice to read as we near Mother’s Day.
The author, Julien Sandrel, was born in southern France. This is his first novel, already published in dozens of countries.