Kelly's Reviews > Rats Saw God

Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas
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's review
Jun 02, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: ya-fiction, read-in-2012
Read from June 02 to 03, 2012


Steve, despite being a National Merit Scholar, is in danger of not earning the last English credit he needs to graduate senior year. But his counselor makes him an offer: write his story. Explain what's going on. Get to the truth. After initial hesitance, Steve starts to write.

This is an older book (1996!) but it's so relevant and still speaks to the teen experience today. Steve has an authentic and believable male voice and one which reminded me of so many of the boys I used to work with.

Everything that's been bothering Steve and causing him to quit caring about school is testament to that time when you realize you're not a product of other people but in fact, you're an independent, thinking, feeling person. This is the quintessential bildungsroman, in that as readers we get to see Steve "come of age" right before us in more than one way. We get him at the point where it seems he can't be redeemed, but through the essay he writes, we watch as he has his huge growth and experiences his moments of clarity. We watch as he's feeling okay about his lot in life in Houston, but then as he navigates the tricky territory of making and keeping friends of his own, of falling in love and experiencing intimacy with a girl, of having his heart trampled on by that self-same girl, of determining what his parents are to him, of having adults just plain let him down or give up on him completely. As he starts figuring these things out, you can't help but love him just a little bit more and hope nothing but the best for him.

Even if Steve is so far removed from his feelings and his experiences (he chooses to get high and not do work for a reason), we know it's because he's working through so much alone. But it's that essay and that reaching out from his counselor -- the first adult to actually care about him and not give up on him in years -- that helps him through. At least, that's what we're led to believe because that's how Steve feels; but as the back story develops and the current story progresses, we learn that there were many more allies in Steven's life than he was aware of. But this is precisely the teen mentality (and hell, it's the human mentality, isn't it?). It all comes to a head when Steven learns the truth about his parents, about his father and mother's divorce, about how, despite feeling like his father has been worthless, he's actually just been reading and treating Steve the way he felt like Steve needed and wanted to be read and treated.

There are drugs and there is sex in this book. I was actually a little surprised how detailed the sex scenes were, but (view spoiler). My heart also ached when (view spoiler) And the smart and savvy weaving of the dada element into the story and into Steve worked on so many levels, too. Because life is and isn't a series of disconnects. Steve shows us this and understands it for himself.

Though the references are older in this book, I wonder if it matters. I actually loved the slice of time the references gave the story because Steven's voice and experiences are timeless. So even if the death of Kurt Cobain isn't quite as relevant to today's world as it was in the 90s, what Steve experiences rises above it. There's not a disconnect at all. Maybe the dated elements give the book even more relevance as a classic of YA lit.

This is a slower paced book, which is good given it's also a shorter book (my paperback had only 200 pages). Writing-wise, it was reminiscent of Paul Zindel and Blake Nelson (even though James from "Destroy All Cars" was much louder than Steve would ever be, their voices and stories reminded me so much of one another).
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Reading Progress

06/02/2012 page 55
25.0% "So smart." 4 comments
06/02/2012 page 100
45.0% "Just read a reference to drinking shiner bock at the crown and anchor in Austin. I used to do that all the time. Also: neat!"
06/02/2012 page 205
92.0% "My little heart can hardly handle this. I'm in love with Steve."

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