‘I cried a lot when I was little, often, and I didn’t know why.’
Adèle returns home, to the village where she grew up in the Ardèche mountains in South-east France, after an absence of ten years. She has returned to drive the school bus, transporting the school children the long distances they now must travel to attend school. Adèle believes that no-one recognises her: the person who left the village is not the one who has returned. She is home.
‘Once again, the landscape has filled up my whole being. My countryside is contained within me.’
Adèle has a past, and part of her story will unfold in this novel. There is the story of two siblings, Alex, and his older sister Adèle, who was once his brother. Alex is angry with Adèle: he misses his big brother and refuses to acknowledge he has a sister. Can Alex accept Adèle? Adèle, the bus driver, knows each of the children she is responsible for on the bus. She watches them grow, sees their struggles, feels responsible for them. And then, one day, the bus is stranded by a snowstorm. Adèle and the students take shelter in a cave. To pass the time, they talk. One of the students starts to reveal Adèle’s history.
‘And he begins to tell the story of my life.’
Right at that moment, I caught my breath. How will the students react to Adèle’s story? Will they still accept her? Or has she been accepted already? Adèle is concerned: both her standing in the community and a developing relationship are at stake. By this stage in the novel Adèle and her struggles have become real: I want her to find happiness, I want her to find a place where she is accepted for who she is.
Ms Pagano’s novel deals sensitively with several of the issues that arise when someone transitions from one gender to another. Relationships with family, acceptance in the community often change because of the way in which we define people according to their gender, rather than considering their humanity.
‘So there you go, I say, it’s the night of revelations.’
This novel was first published in 2006 as ‘Les Adolescents Troglodytes’ and won the European Union Prize for Literature in 2009. Fortunately, it is now available in English.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Text Publishing for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.