Adrian and the Tree of Secrets by Hubert, illustrated by Marie Caillou, translated by David Homel
Bespectacled, sweater-vested, and “as shiny as a new penny,” Adrian is the quiet nerd who too often gets bullied at school. At home, his mother keeps him on a tight leash, even as he is clearly trying to pull away. His father is never mentioned. His maternal aunt is the only person in the world who seems to understand him; he’s grateful to her as she slips him spending money with which he buys Friedrich Nietzche’s Also Sprach Zaranthustra [of “God is dead” and Übermensch fame].”I’d go crazy without books,” Adrian admits, “They’re the only place where I’m free.”
One day he’s knocked down in a ball game by Jeremy, the school’s own Übermensch. Adrian vehemently rejects Jeremy’s apologies, shocking Jeremy with a diatribe against the school, the “sadistic bastards,” and the PE teacher. “What happened to the mama’s boy with the argyle sweater and the parted hair?” Jeremy asks with a smile. “He doesn’t exist. It’s just a cover … a survival mechanism, really,” Adrian confesses, surprised to be having such a revealing conversation with Jeremy. “To each his mask,” Jeremy replies.
Their locker conversation quickly develops into something more, until the boys end up sitting side-by-side in Jeremy’s secret treehouse. There Adrian experiences his first smoke – and then his first kiss. His new happiness is short-lived when Jeremy’s girlfriend discovers the pair; her jealousy causes Adrian bodily harm and Jeremy to escape into utter denial. With the school administration – and even his own mother – insisting he is suffering from an “illness,” Adrian desperately seeks to determine his own future …
Rendered in crisp lines filled in with shades of blue, green, brown, and salmon, Marie Caillou’s graphics astutely emphasize Hubert’s affecting narrative about life beyond black and white. Having the courage to eschew oppressive labels, to reject peer pressure, to risk removing the mask, is frightening and liberating both; some will, some can’t. Hubert refuses to offer easy answers or fairy tale happy endings; here he concludes Adrian’s story with the uncertainty so representative of today’s teenage challenges. As much as parents struggle to control, to support, and everything in between, the teenager must ultimately choose his or her own path toward true independence.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Published: 2013, 2014 (United States)