I’m a huge fan of Les Mis, originally penned by Victor Hugo. It was my first experience with Broadway-style live performance, I poured over every scene in the movie, and I even own the original Broadway score. When YABC gave me the opportunity to review this book, I had to do it. If you’re not familiar with the story behind Les Miserable, it takes place around the time of the French Revolution. People were starving, selling everything they could for mere francs, and it’s just a horrible time for everyone. But Les Miserables carries hope close to its chest through the muck and grime of poverty, and you can feel this hope within the images Ms. Williams created.
The main protagonist, Jean Valjean, was imprisoned nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving sister. Nineteen years! For bread! Once his time of slave labor is served, he’s released into the world hard and cold with no love or compassion for anything. In short, he’s not very likable, but one can’t help feeling something for this man who only wanted to feed his family. Ms. Williams does a fantastic job of portraying Valjean’s journey, and his uphill battle to find heart.
Along Valjean’s journey, we meet Fontine, the single mother with a doomed fate. Keeping in taste for younger readers, some of Fontine’s struggles are glossed over, or removed, but her strife is still felt through the words and images. The innkeeper and his wife are wonderfully loathsome and gross. Marius and Eponine are valiant and lovely. And Cozette, sweet Cozettte, is beautiful and blossoms throughout the pages.
To be perfectly honest, my thoughts on this book have two sides. My mommy side is at war with my bookish love side.
My bookish lover adores this book. Marcia Williams does a brilliant job of harnessing the vital story behind Victor Hugo’s masterpiece. The characters are engaging and their stories are told in a very direct and enjoyable manner. Her color choices within the illustrations are effectively warm, cold, lovely, and morbid. The illustrations themselves bring to life the incredible cast of characters of Les Miserables. If you’re a fan of Les Miserables, you will adore this book as I do.
But, as a mother of a young soon-to-be reader, this is not a book for a small child. Perhaps I’m overly censored, but I just don’t want to expose my child to something he will not yet understand. This is not a book for an eight year-old to read by themselves who’s not familiar with the story of Les Miserables. The story behind Valjean’s journey is a dark one, riddled with hardship and loss. And although Marcia Williams doesn’t slather the pages with graphic violence, there are still scenes depicting the climactic moments of the Les Miserales tale: death and war.
The context and pace of Les Miserables is also something that would appeal to mature young readers. The vocabulary is challenging enough for the 8-10 year-old readers, but written in a simplistic, straight forward fashion common with picture books. The graphic novel style adds a unique touch while keeping the story active and flowing.
If read with an active parental participant, this book is a great addition to your library. It is also a great book to engage discussion with your child about the characters’ motivations to do certain things for survival or out of love. Les Miserables is an important story to know. Yes, there is strife, there is death, and there is heartbreak. In the end, Les Miserables teaches us to never give up and to always embrace love, even when times are at their darkest. Marcia Williams’ retelling of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables brings these paramount messages of love and compassion to younger readers with relatable text and vivid illustrations.