Friday, June 21, 2024

Guy Friday- Ratty

Selfors, Suzanne and Naidu, Lavanya (illus.). Ratty
June 18, 2024 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In 1995, 12-year-old Ratty and his uncle Max Barclay return to Fairweather Island in order to try to reverse the curse that Ratty is under; shortly after his birth, he turned into a rat. His parents abandoned him, and he's been raised in secret by his loving uncle. Ratty tends to many injured creatures, but wants to return to being human. His uncle is reluctant to go back, and isn't wrong. The family house has been cared for by Jasper Gup, whose granddaughter, Edweena, is visiting while her parents, who are famous treasure hunters, are traveling. Edweena was bitten by a rat when she was young, and has made it her life's work to educate others about the dangers of rats, and to set traps all over the Barclay estate. Max, of course, has her remove these, and once she does, she is alarmed to see a variety of rats streaming to the house! They have come to see Ratty, whom they consider their king. Ratty, for his part, helps the rats with various ailments, and Max has to buy a LOT of cheese to feed them, making Edweena even more suspicious. We find that Peter Barclay, who worked on a ship and was thrown overboard, washing up on Fairweather Island in the late 1800s, logged the cedar trees to extinction, and his family all did various things that caused damage to the island. There is a curse that has affected the family for generations, but it usually causes their death, not a transformation like Ratty's. When Edweena finally meets Ratty, the two find a surprising link in their past, and she learns that rats are not as horrible as she thought. When she skips the school trip to the sinkhole where Peter Barclay was killed 100 years ago, to work on plans with Ratty, she is appalled to learn that her entire class, as well as Max and Jasper, have fallen into the sinkhole. Ratty has a solution to the problem, and when the people of the island find out his true identity, Ratty learns to make peace with the curse and who he is. 
Strengths: Selfors always writes a good animal story; Wedgie and Gizmo still makes me laugh. Ratty, of course, is not all humorous, and there is a lot to unpack, both for Edweena and for Ratty. Edweena has family issues of her own, with her great-great-great-grandmother inventing a very effective rat trap. Max is a fantastic uncle who is willing to do anything for Ratty, and the interaction with the community is very satisfying. Naidu's illustrations really make this book; they remind me a little of Joe and Beth Krush's illustrations in Norton's The Borrowers and just give a delightful sense of setting and characters. I wish more middle grade books would incorporate this level of illustration. 
Weaknesses: I wanted to know more about exactly how the curse turned Ratty into a rat, and expected something different at the end. I feel like I missed some greater message, somehow. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoy rodent themed fiction like Lieb's Ratscalibur , Fiedler's Mouseheart trilogy, or Moon's Delphine and the Silver Needle.

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