The Christmas Rat
Grade Level: 3-7
I read The Christmas Rat to my boys last Christmas. I read to them every night and much of what I read ends up being less than memorable (for me - not necessarily for them). I try to mix it up with a little bit of the classics to make it more interesting (Old Yeller, Johnny Tremaine, Ender's Game, etc) and some of the new middle grade popular stuff to keep them engaged (Divergent, Michael Vey, Artemis Fowl). But every now and then I throw in an intriguing sounding book with rats in it.
This particular book is difficult to forget. It is really an odd book, and very eerie. It does not follow any common plot formula. I actually found it to be quite disturbing in places. It makes it a hard book to recommend or not recommend - because I myself have conflicted feelings about the book and it can very well produce polar opposite reactions in different people. I happen to like books that are different and memorable even if they are not a completely perfect, polished piece of art, so I have a particular draw to this one. But others may not find it so intriguing.
The main character, Eric, is a boy home for Christmas break. But things don't go according to his plans. His friends are either sick or out of town and his parents leave him alone during the day. He ends up meeting with his apartment building's exterminator, who coerces him to swear an oath to help him hunt down the rat in the building's basement. Eric quickly realizes that what he is doing is wrong and he develops an appreciation for the building's intelligent rat resident. But when he starts to waiver on his oath, the exterminator turns against him.
The exterminator is really one of the most creepy characters in children's fiction. He is portrayed as a violent killer who kills for the love of it. He needs the hunt. The fact that he is also supposed to be a manifestation of the Angel Gabriel is what really stirs things up. It is hard to resolve these two personas and the fact that on the one hand, we absolutely know that the exterminator is the enemy but on the other hand, can an angel really be the enemy in a children's Christmas story? Would an angel turn on a child trying to do what he believes is right? Or is there something more to it?
I think the book worked these issues out in the end - and the rat is definitely portrayed as crafty and as a being worth fighting for. I recommend this book for those who like their plots and conflicts to be a little muddy and not so cut and dry. But it could be disturbing and a little violent for kids who are not used to that sort of thing. My kids like video games and scary movies and so were completely fine with it. I probably was more disturbed than they were - simply because of the use of the Angel Gabriel in the specific role he played.