________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 2. . . .September 11, 2009


River Rat.

Alison Lohans.
Rosedale, NZ: Pearson Education (Order from the author at lohans@sasktel.net), 2008.
178 pp., pbk. $14.95 (plus shipping).
ISBN 978-1-86970-641-8.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Karen Taylor.

***½ /4



As Scott had hoped, Preston had a computer in his room. His fingers craved to be touching those keys. "Can I check my game account?" he asked. As the computer booted up, he explained about Mike and Aaron and Dragontamer73_16, and Tallinn's Quest.

The main page flashed onto the screen and the wizard's wand erupted its blast of power across the banner, exploding colours everywhere. As they settled, Scott clicked the log-in link, keyed in his password and got an error message.

Sorry, the password you have entered is invalid. Register here to set up a new account. All players must be over thirteen years of age or have parental permission. You must read and agree to the
Privacy Terms and Licensing Agreement...

Scott balled his hands into fists and stared hard at the screen. The loss slammed into his gut, took his breath away... He tensed every muscle he could think of. Swore. Did it again.

"That really sucks." Preston was watching over his shoulder while the logo knight trotted along the path to the magical gates of the kingdom of Pohja-Tallinn, got to the shield that masked the entrance and then zoomed back to start over. "How long since you played?"

"A couple of weeks." His voice was hoarse as he fought for control.

"Here. Let me show you one. It's the coolest..."

"Wait." Scott yanked the mouse away from Preston's reaching hand. He clicked into the messenger program and texted Aaron, Mike and Dragontamer:

guyz what happnd to my TQ accnt? U think im a loser or what? At friends house, only DOS @ plumville WRITE BACK.

why'd u let me down? He didn't add. don't u care?

Preston was still reading over his shoulder. Magic sounds shimmered as the knight and his horse swerved back to the starting point. "This game looks awesome," he said. "I wonder how come I never found the site?"


When Scott Campbell's uncle and aunt invite him to spend the summer with them on a working holiday, Scott's parents jump at the opportunity to wean him of his online game addiction. The 14-year-old arrives in California feeling confused about being kicked out of his home and angry at his inability to play Tallinn's Quest while also losing access to his online gamer friends. At first, Scott has trouble adjusting to the quiet rural life. Half the time, he zones out as he imagines strategies and game play and misses much of what people tell him. The rest of the time, he is at a loss for words because he is unused to interpersonal interactions without the interface and common reference of his online game persona. Indeed, his game play leaves him ill equipped for the social interaction of his cousin and her friends who like to float down river on inner tubes.

     The book employs an intriguing typeface treatment to reflect online screen text and the truncated text message spelling of chat or cell phone texting. The later being used to represent Scott's imaginary and real text communications. From a literary perspective, the use of text message spelling to represent imaginary conversations with himself or his friends is a little disconcerting because it isn't very realistic and seems out of place. However, young readers are probably less likely to be bothered by the use of this convention which, despite its shortcomings, serves to emphasize the depth of Scott's addiction to electronic media.

      Occasionally, Scott's reactions come across as false, but mostly Lohans captures the, at times, irrational and self-centred views typical of teens as they shed their childish identities for more adult ones. For instance, although Scott is supposed to be working on the farm, he displays a very immature understanding of what "work" entails which means he arrives late, pays little attention to instructions, and becomes annoyed when he is reprimanded.

      Of the several narrative threads (river rafting, the untold story of how his cousins drowned, working in a commercial orchard, online game play, his angry relationship with his father, building relationships with his uncles, aunts, and cousin), the most exciting is the one about the robberies. Most readers would be hard-pressed to imagine what could be stolen from an orchard, but, as readers learn, fruit, whole trees, equipment, even containers of fertilizer are all of interest to thieves. In the concluding event, Scott acquits himself in typical (fictional) teenage fashion. Because he's understandably afraid to confront the thieves directly, he photographs them in action using his cell phone and saves the day.

      Despite the character's occasional inauthentic response to certain events, Lohans has produced a well-paced narrative in a realistic setting. Readers would certainly appreciate the portrayal of Scott's game addiction and his adventures while river rafting against the dramatic backdrop of family secrets and theft. In keeping with Pearson Education's "Nitty Gritty Novel" series, the back cover folds out to reveal classroom discussion questions. Another nice touch are the black and white images appearing at the beginning of each new chapter. This book proceeds at an appropriate pace and contains content suitable for readers between the ages of 9 and 13. Overall, Lohans' subtle handling of various narrative situations gives the reader insights that even Scott is unaware of which makes this a particularly useful book for discussions about online game play, feelings, family relations, and social interactions. I highly recommend this book; it is entertaining, contains high-action game play, and is a pleasure to read.

Highly Recommended.

Karen Taylor is a MA in Children's Literature candidate at the University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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