CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 7. . . .October 19, 2012
Rat. (Orca Soundings).
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2012.
120 pp., pbk., hc., pdf & epub, $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0300-8 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0301-5 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0302-2 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0303-9 (epub).
Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.
Review by Erika Heesen.
Reviewed from Advance Review Copy.
So there I was, alone in my room again, drawing in one of my dozens of sketchbooks, and I found myself sketching this amazing, ferocious rat.
As in ratting. Wasn't that the word that even Mr. Miller had used to describe me?
I created one rat and then another. Each more outrageous than the last. Until I hit on the one that seemed to just leap off the page. Big teeth, powerful body, large fierce eyes. But in those eyes was intelligence. The more I sketched in the details, the more he seemed to come alive. The more he seemed to mean something.
I was wondering why rats had such a bad rep. I wondered if they deserved it. I set the sketchbook upright on my desk and stared into those wild, dark, intelligent eyes.
After Colin helps out an elderly man who is being tormented by a couple of Colin's high school classmates, Colin finds himself the target of cyber-bullying when they post Photo-Shopped photos of him online. However, Colin then discovers that the bullying goes far beyond attempting to discredit him as his two classmates use their technological skills to blackmail girls at the school, including his best friend, Emily. Colin's attempts to fight back and break the code of silence at his school often land him in hot water. So Colin stays silent when further problems at his school with drugs and weapons arise. But when a student is shot and killed, Colin regrets not speaking up. When he talks to police, he discovers that, while he has made some enemies, he has some real admirers in his school as well.
The plot is fast-paced and appropriate for teens while the language is kept clear and straightforward for teens reading below grade level. Because Rat's narrated in the first-person by Colin, it's effortless to get inside Colin's head and understand his decisions. Colin is a bit of an anti-hero - while he takes a stand against bullying at his school, he's not the greatest student or always does the right thing. Despite this, he is depicted with a strong moral conviction that drives him to speak out about the bullying and other issues. This internal conflict makes it easy to relate to him as a character and to how teens deal with issues in real life. The book's title refers to Colin and his status within the school as a 'rat.' Colin discovers through research that the rat is also intelligent, resourceful, and a survivor. He embraces the title of 'rat' and draws various rats on shirts he wears to school. At the end of the novel, the image of the rat is being perpetuated by others in graffiti throughout the town, and his friend Emily believes Colin has "...raised ratting to a whole new level of social acceptance."
The very current issue of cyber-bullying is something that all teens will be able to understand. Beyond the cyber-bullying, though, is the cult of silence that holds all the students from speaking up about the bullies and the dangerous development of weapons and drugs at school. Rat puts forth a powerful argument for speaking up that will resonate with the reader.
Erika Heesen is a librarian/archivist living in Kingston, ON.
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