Katherine Rundell's Rooftoppers (2013) is charming to the point of Disneyfication, a collection of adorable figures and improbable coincidences that would be utterly saccharine if it didn't work so damn well.
Sophie is an orphan - the survivor of a shipwreck, found floating in a cello case and claimed by an eccentric bachelor, Charles. Charles raises her in the best goofily cinematic fashion: they write on the walls, eat jam for every meal, climb on the roof and replace formal schooling with lots of Shakespeare. Sophie doesn't even wear dresses - Charles gives her trousers instead, the crazy fool.
Well, naturally the Welfare people (a YA novel where the state is the villain? What are the odds?!) don't like this arrangement. Charles isn't raising Sophie as a lady and they're going to put her in an orphanage instead. Charles and Sophie do the sensible thing and scamper over to Paris, prompted, in part, by Sophie discovering a Parisian address in her cello case.
Once there, the two become an unlikely pair of detectives: Charles exhausts the legal avenues while trying to solve the chello mystery, and Sophie, well, she takes to the rooftops. It seems that Paris is inhabited by tribes of feral orphans, bounding from roof to roof, free as the birds they hunt and eat.
There are certainly some dark moments, but on the whole, Rooftoppers is simply cute. From the beginning, the whole foppish Shakespeare and jam thing signposts that this book is set a charming unreality, where Sophie and Charles blithely and anachronistically bound from adventure to adventure, complete with roof-picnics and music lessons and more. It is Poppinsesque, in all the most captivating ways. Rooftoppers is adorable, but it is also clever, adventurous and suitable for all ages - it is good clean fun.
A version of this review first appeared on Pornokitsch (March 2014).