RAT LIFE by Tedd Arnold
Rat Life is pretty much billed as a mystery novel for teens, but I’d call it more of a coming of age tale. This is a harsher, bleaker story than I’d recommend for a lot of tens, though, and there’s some historical references in it that I think a lot of kids today would struggle with. I grew up with the Vietnam War constantly in my face, and today’s kids have had the Iraq and Afghanistan problems that are all around us, but I think the mood of the country is different.
I’d been thinking about handing this book off to my fourteen year old son because we share a lot of books and I really liked Todd’s character and his stories of growing up and best friends. However, the incident with the puppy immediately put me off of that idea, and I have to admit it almost put me off of the book. I’m glad I didn’t stop reading, though. The book is a powerful thing and a very hard thing, but I enjoyed it a lot overall.
Some readers aren’t going to be able to handle the puppy plot at all, but I saw how it’s important to the story, and to the way Todd gets to where he understands Rat. The scenes still disturb me, but I feel that it was harder for the author to write than for me to read.
I really like the way Todd was portrayed. His relationship with his teacher, his friends, and his family were fantastic. I loved the motel setting and how he had to make all of those beds. The author, Tedd Arnold, did a bang-up job of detailing the commonplace of Todd’s life. Hmmm. Todd, Tedd, maybe more than a coincidence?
Rat was an interesting character too, but it was hard learning everything he had been through with his family and with the war. I was surprised to learn that kids that young had slipped through the cracks and got bloodied in Vietnam.
The mystery was involved and had several facets, all of them with clues and foreshadowings that the author delivered with skill. I was constantly trying to figure out whodunit, but I was more concerned with the relationship between Todd and Rat, and whether Todd would ever tell the story about the puppy to people that could truly help him.
The force of nature sequence at the end of the novel was enthralling and breath-taking, and I was desperately turning pages to see how everything turned out. Tedd Arnold has written and illustrated mostly children’s books. Rat Life is his first foray into the YA market, and I hope it’s not his last because he’s got a lot of talent. I’d welcome another book about Todd and Rat to see how they got on after this one.