CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 21. . . .February 5, 2016
Lisa J. Lawrence.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2016.
281 pp., pbk., pdf & epub., $14.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0976-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0977-2 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0978-9 (epub).
Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.
Review by Sagan Morrow.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
I steel myself, look into her piggy eyes and say, “I’m sorry I hit you.” Mr. Talmage nods, like we’re just getting started. What? What else? “And I won’t do it again.” I feel about five years old. He keeps nodding, but I’m all out of words. He makes some kind of gesture for us to shake hands, which we don’t.
Ainsley blinks again, gazing angelically at Mr. Talmage. I stare at a stapler on his desk.
“Now, no more of this nonsense,” he says as the phone on his desk starts to ring. “There’s no reason you girls can’t be friends. Off to class.” He shoos us toward the door.
We scrape our chairs back and try to maneuver around each other without touching or making eye contact. As we head for the door, I stop to let her step through first. Mr. Talmage laughs loudly into the receiver and swivels his back to us.
“You’re dead,” she whispers in my ear as she pushes past me.
Rodent tells the story of 16-year-old Isabelle as she navigates life with an alcoholic mother and two young siblings to look after… in addition to the three mean girls who bully her at her new school that she needs to deal with over the course of the novel. Isabelle’s reality is cold and hard, and she needs to learn to ask for, and accept, help throughout this story as well as to manage her fear and guide her family through this trying time.
This novel is written in the first person, enabling readers to effectively get inside Isabelle’s head and see her world for what it is. This story is particularly unique as it helps readers to understand the harsh realities of bullying, classism, and poverty, including the limited choice available when facing poverty and the immense difficulty of stepping out of the cycle.
Isabelle, herself, is portrayed as a sympathetic figure. Although she likens herself to a rodent (a nod to the title of the book), “running from hole to hole… picking up scraps to survive”, another character points out to her that “Rodents are very resilient. They survive when nothing else can.” The underlying themes of this book, that things aren’t always what they seem on the surface and that it’s possible to change perspective, come out especially in this scene towards the end of the book.
This story is artfully written to help readers learn about complex issues that they may not have experience with or knowledge of. By presenting issues of poverty and bullying through the eyes of Isabelle, readers are able to learn about serious issues present in today’s society throughout this captivating story. Later on in the novel, readers learn why Isabelle’s mother turned to alcohol—something that is often, unfortunately and unfairly, not considered or taken into account in our society when children are involved. In this way, although Isabelle has a complicated relationship with her mother, her mother is not vilified; instead, she is seen as another character who needs a strong support system to help her to get better.
Rodent is Lisa J. Lawrence’s first novel, and she has done a commendable job of weaving complex themes into a compelling story that high school students of all backgrounds will be able to relate to and enjoy.
Sagan Morrow is a freelance writer and professional lifestyle blogger (SaganMorrow.com) in Winnipeg, MB.
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