Pre-teen Esmeralda McInnerny lives in France with her Italian mother and sexually experimental uncle, Alberic. Unky Berky, as she calls him, has given her the nickname Zapinette. Zapinette spends her days obsessed with adult sexuality, which she does not completely correctly grasp. This does not stop her from drawing her own very strong conclusions about the adult world of sex.
The book is also sprinkled with short stories written by Unky Berky about a character named Ripov, who encounters many situations.
The plot of Zapinette is minimal. The action that takes place is merely a backdrop for Zapinette to paint her wacky conclusions on and for the character of Unky Berky to flit through.
Russo’s characters make the book. Zapinette is wise beyond her years and yet is wildly ignorant about some things. As the narrator, her personalized language gives the book some wonderful humor. She refers to “sigh-kayak-trysts” (psychiatrists) and discusses with great fascination the fact that Unky Berky was once “heather setchual” and is now “homey.” She also considers that he may be “bike” and is shocked to learn he is a “transvestit.”
However, she is still a child and has many tantrums and childish outbursts towards her mother and uncle that reduce her to a low level in the reader’s eyes. Unky Berky is fun to read about, but his Ripov stories may not enchant all readers. The other characters are minor, and provide some interesting humor.
Russo’s writing style is extremely creative. His playfulness with language is one of the best aspects of the book. Skip this one if you are bothered by frank talk about sex and the use of taboo words. He shows no fear and brings forth the most shocking things from the mouth of Zapinette.
Beyond the enjoyable creativity, there is a deeper meaning to the story. Zapinette, who was abandoned by her father, clings to Unky Berky as her father figure and is plagued with worry that he will leave her. Her desperation is the somber current beneath the humor, and offsets it quite well. This is an excellent book and would be even better if the Ripov stories were minimized.