We all don’t live fairy-tale lives. Many of us have issues to deal with that are difficult and ugly which take their toll on us emotionally. The same counts for many young people. So why should they have to endure fairy tales when their lives really “suck” and they need some way to better understand their world around them. Lisa J. Lawrence has written a book that reflects a grittier side to a young person’s life called Rodent.
There have been five schools in the past three years, not to mention all the ones I passed through before I even hit junior high. I’ve seen it all. If I keep my head down, after two more years of this I’ll be free. Then it won’t matter if Mom has a good day or two when she finds a new job, drags us off to some other hellhole, the brings the whole thing crashing down. I won’t be a puppet in this stupid game anymore.
I don’t realize how hard I slam my locker until the girl next to me jumps. I give her a look like, What? and march off. Then I have to pull out a map of the school because I have no idea where I’m going. English. Room 102. Okay
When I find it, I make a beeline for the back row, which is already taken by other students trying to be invisible or goof off. I end up sitting in front of a tall guy with a mop of dark hair and glasses that look like they belong in the sixties. He’s reading a thesaurus. To my left, a chubby girl with stringy hair picks at her split ends. I think I’ve found my corner.
We are thrown into Isabelle’s life right at when it’s most traumatic. She is starting out in Grade 11 and facing all the usual teenage problems that come up in young girls lives. But she is also the caregiver to her younger brother and sister while her mother suffers from alcoholism. We witness Isabelle face crisis after crisis while we silently see the tension take their toll on her emotions until she snaps.
“Pick it up yourself,” I say again, louder. Something grinds inside me. The redhead flees.
It happens in an instant. The blond narrows her eyes and moves to take a step toward me. Between the eye-narrowing and when she lifts her foot, I form a fist. I know how to make a decent fist. My cousin Jacquie taught me – thumb on the outside, knuckles not too tight. It has served me well, especially at these ghetto schools I usually end up in.
The blond opens her mouth to say something, shoulders squared for a fight. Before she can get the word out, I slam her in the face. She staggers back into the arms of her friends. Grabs her nose to stop the gush of blood spraying down her turquoise tank top. Shock is all I see on the face of every single person, including her. They weren’t expecting this. Ice floods my gut. Tears form in her squinty eyes. Then something else, something I recognize instantly: rage.
Lawrence has capture a big slice of the human condition by bringing the story of Isabelle forward. The lifestyle endured by the main character does actually exists as does much of the responsibility and the angst she has. And Lawrence hasn’t tempered the language for publication at all. She has Isabelle talking and thinking the way a teenager talks and thinks today. Easy enough for any reader to relate too.
Monday morning. Will’s eyes light up as I drop my backpack by my desk. He doesn’t look away, waiting for me to give something back to him. A word, a smile. something I barely nod at him before sliding into my seat. You don’t want this, Romeo. How could I think for an instant that he could be part of my world?
I picture Will sitting on the ugly sofa as Uncle Richie hurls beer bottles and we all scatter like cockroaches. Isn’t that what every guy wants? Congratulations, Will. You just won yourself a nice, dysfunctional family. Even worse if he tried to help, to fix. The girlfriend who’s also a project. It’s for his own good that I walk away. He’ll never know about the Molotov cocktail he just avoided. Still, the ache in my chest makes it hard for me to lift my head today.
Gritty. Honest. Bold. These words certainly describe this story. But most importantly Lisa J. Lawrence’s Rodent has captured a slice of life that a good number of people (not just teens but adults) have to endure. This book should start a number of conversations and great deal of soul searching by many. Exactly what a great piece of literature should do.