Today, I finished reading a novel, translated from Norwegian, that stole my heart.
Along the way I laughed, I gasped, I felt my heart break, and I fell in love with a couple of foolhardy children, a glorious grandfather, and a grandma as loving and sheltering as the very hills.
It’s a debut novel, written 10 years ago and published in English for the first time this year. I highly recommend it for ages 8 and up.
Adventures with Waffles, by Maria Parr, translated by Guy Puzey originally published 2003; first U.S. edition published in 2015 by Candlewick Press
Along a glistening fjord, among steep fields that climb into sky-skimming hills and wooded mountainsides, a handful of farms are scattered about. One belongs to nine-year-old Trille Yttergård, his parents, brother, sisters, and Grandpa. Next door, in their small house live his best friend, Lena, and her mom.
Lena is Trille’s best friend, that is. But Trille is uncertain whether he is Lena’s best friend. It would be nice to know that. It gives a person such a steady, good feeling to know such a thing for certain.
One thing everyone in the area knows, is what a pair of hooligans Lena and Trille are. These two can get into mischief and mayhem faster than lightning strikes, and inevitably their shenanigans wind up with one of them getting hurt. Often badly. Or sprayed with cow muck. You never know what it will be.
The idyllic setting with ferries motoring across the fjord, sugar-topped waffles cooked up by the best Auntie-Grandma in the world, Midsummer bonfires, and sheep roundups in the high pastures, careens with one disaster after another in episodes that made me laugh out loud. A lot. Lena is a spitfire, and Trille is easily raked into every noodle-headed plan she comes up with.
At the next moment, though, author Maria Parr swings us
around, plunging us into such deep waters we are left reeling. The gasping pain of a loved one’s unexpected death; the ache and boulder-in-your-stomach sensation of grief and loneliness; the futile anger over sweeping changes in life that can’t be stopped — Parr stunningly conveys these strong emotions. She does this by creating characters we fiercely love, and letting them feel and voice their emotions in keen, yet age-appropriate ways, within the comforting arms of a warm family and community. Absolutely brilliant.
As Lena participates in Trille’s large, warmhearted family, there’s one thing she sets her heart on: a dad of her own. She and Trille have difficulty at times articulating just what it is that dad’s are for; nonetheless, she is determined to get one. To her mom’s consternation, Lena’s methods in this venture are as unpredictable as everything else she does. One of the tenderest, most bittersweet moments in the story is when Trille understands with his whole being just what it is that a dad is for. It’s just not something that can be put into words.
Friendship. Family. Community. Belonging. Themes common to lots of great literature, delivered here with charm and zest, concussions and fish breakfasts. There’s enough danger and pain and loss that despite the zaniness of many episodes, you might take care with younger, sensitive listeners or readers. For most, it would be a superb read-aloud or independent read, for ages 8 and up.