________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 33 . . . . April 25, 2014



Natale Ghent.
Toronto. ON: Tundra Books, 2014.
177 pp., hardcover & ebook, $19.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-77049-639-2 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-77049-641-5 (ebook).

Subject Heading:
Guinea pigs-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Mary Thomas.

** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



A pig of Milly's talents did not belong in a pet shop, especially a dusty old forgotten one where none of the other animals even knew about the theatre, let along Shakespeare. How could a guinea as sensitive as Milly possibly thrive in such a place? In fact, how could he go on living at all? Nothing could rouse him today. Nothing cold lure him from beneath his blanket of cedar shavings. Nothing, except --

The bells on the door of the shop jingled cheerfully. The first children of the day had arrived!

Millhouse sprang to his feet, kicking his shavings to one side. Running his small pink paws through his beard, he gave a quick shudder to smooth his skin before racing to the front of his cage. Smiling his warmest smile, he gazed smartly at the boy and girl who'd entered the shop.

But this Saturday, like every Saturday before, the children passed Milly's cage without so much as a how do you do.

"At least they didn't laugh," Milly told himself. "Perhaps they'll notice me on their second time around." He struck a dramatic pose, hoping to catch their attention.

Millhouse, or Milly as he likes to call himself, is a naked guinea pig with attitude. He now lives in a pet shop with lots of other small animals, but he came there after the death of his owner Sir Roderick Lord Kingsmagger, a famous actor. Theatre -- with a capital T -- is in his blood. He knows all of Shakespeare's plays by heart, and each evening he sneaks from his cage (he is both clever and dextrous and can unlock it from the inside) to act one of them out with the help of various "props" -- a marble, a twig, a chamois cloth -- he has collected. Milly is different in so many ways other than having no hair and indulging in histrionics. It is unfortunate that the fact that the baby mice -- and Elliot the asthmatic rat --- love his stories is not enough to keep him from being tormented by the attitudes of the other animals, especially after the arrival of a new species of guinea with a beautifully soft and silky coat and a particularly inventive set of insults. As a result, Milly is miserable, especially after the arrival of a particularly soft and silky guinea with an even more inventive set of insults which he aims at poor Milly.

internal art      The book is a record of Milly's attempts to improve his situation by (a) running away, and when that fails, by (b) enlisting the help of the wild mice who live in and around the pet shop during the winter. Milly's excursions with the mice are not entirely successful, but he survives them, and presumably they help him develop the fortitude necessary to save the pet shop from burning to the ground with all the animals in it when a stray cigarette butt is left to smoulder in a pile of straw. Milly then is, of course, a Hero -- with a capital H -- but this is nothing compared to his joy at finally being bought by a little girl who also is starry-eyed over Theatre.

      I have always disliked those tiny hairless dogs; I didn't know guineas came similarly lacking; I don't wonder that poor sensitive Milly was not the first choice of anyone looking for a cute little pet. Milly does have character, and certainly the reader, i.e., me, wishes him well in his new theatrical milieu, but I didn't find him enormously appealing. He has a strong tendency to scream for help in time of stress, or to faint, and he nearly always seems to be feeling depressed and sorry for himself. Being basically a coward but managing to overcome this when absolutely required to do so by circumstances might have been endearing, but Milly's always persuading himself that he is miserable is not endearing at all. On the other hand, he was kind to, and fond of, the baby mice. Basically I'm afraid I found him a bit of a bore and have had to make an effort to be fair. Sorry Milly. I'm just another visitor to the pet shop who turns away saying, "No thanks!"

Recommended with Reservations.

Mary Thomas lives in Winnipeg, MB, and has never much cared for moaners.

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

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