________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 21 . . . . June 23, 2006


Sewer Rats. (Orca Currents).

Sigmund Brouwer.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2006.
106 pp., pbk. & cl., $9.95 (pbk), $16.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55143-488-1 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55143-527-6 (cl.).

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Marina Cohen.

***½ /4


I opened my duffle bag. Beside my paintball gun was our small flag. It was attached to a short wooden pole. I lifted it out and waved it.

“Our flag,” Micky said. “If you capture it, it's yours. It will make you kings of the tunnel. No other school has taken our flag since we began the game last year.”

Mr. Army spun and pointed to one of his guys. The guy saluted. I mean, actually saluted. Then he reached inside his jacket and took out their team flag.

“Good.” Micky said. “We both put our flags somewhere in sight. The war is over when one team takes the other's flag and makes it back here. If we take your flag, we add it to our collection. You can try to get it back next time. But there's a lineup to take us on. Might be a couple months of Saturdays before you get a chance.”

“Whatever,” Mr. Army said. “I'm not worried. Our guys are tough.”

I wondered if they were tunnel tough. It's a different world in there, with the smallest sound echoing in every direction.

Rats. Every Saturday, the group fights paintball wars with kids from other schools. These wars take place deep in the maze of tunnels that form the drainage system below the city streets. It's the one area in life in which the misfit Sewer Rats all seem to shine as they have never lost a match.

     When Carter, a new kid, attempts to join the group, Jim is more than confused by his friend Lisa's behavior. Jim cannot understand why Lisa is so hostile toward Carter, having him perform a crazy test to get into the group and later even setting him up to be attacked by a rival team in the tunnels.

     It is after this last incident that Jim and Micky discover that Lisa's father is Carter's step-father. She deeply resents the fact that Carter has her dad in his life while she does not. When Jim and Micky confront Lisa, she takes off into the tunnels. The two boys chase after her just as a storm erupts. Quickly, the tunnels begin to fill with water and a crumbling ceiling collapses. Lisa's foot becomes lodged under the rubble, and it is up to Jim and Micky to save her before the water rises above their heads.

     In Sewer Rats, Sigmund Brouwer presents the reader with a fast-paced, first person narrative told through the eyes of Jim McClosky. The plot is gripping, snatching the reader from the get-go and sucking him into this interesting underground world of drainage tunnels and paintball wars. The characters, dialogue and action are credible and timely.

     Although this novel is a hi-lo, Brouwer takes Sewer Rats a step beyond by cleverly weaving various threads of character development throughout the superficial plot. Themes of abandonment, dealing with jealousy, anger and low self-esteem lie just below the surface.

     For example, Jim is essentially a fearful boy who uses humorous inner dialogue with an alter-ego, “Zantor, soldier of the galaxy,” to “make the ball of spiders stop wriggling” in his stomach. Through his experience in helping Lisa, Jim is able to discover his inner strength, no longer needing “Zantor” for courage. Similarly, Micky, who lost his policeman father when he attempted to save a woman from a burning car, could never understand his father's actions. Micky resents when people refer to his father as a “hero” and believes he lost his father needlessly. It is only while being confronted with a similar situation that Micky grows to understand his father's actions—that his father could not stand by idly and watch someone who was desperate for help, even if it meant placing his own life in danger. Both Micky and Lisa learn to deal with fathers who, for various reasons, are not present in their lives—a timely and all too real obstacle facing many young people today.

     Sewer Rats is entertaining and educational, yet far from overtly didactic. It is sure to captivate reluctant readers.

Highly Recommended.

Marina Cohen has a Master's Degree in French Literature from the University of Toronto and has been teaching in the York Region District School Board for 10 years.

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

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