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broodings from the burrow

January 11, 2012

into the stacks: the christmas rat
posted by soe 2:27 am

I read this over several days during the first week of the month — commuting, a sunny lunch break, and one evening to finish it up:

The Christmas Rat by Avi

From the jacket: “He is one weird Christmas visitor — his hair and moustache an unearthly white-blond, his voice a gruff rumble. He fills the apartment doorway. From two metal cases he produces what a boy would expect from an exterminator: Toxic roach powders and poisonous fog bombs. But a crossbow?”

My take: Eric, a middle-schooler living in New York City, is home for Christmas break. His parents are both working, his friends have either left town or are sick, and he’s already discovered his presents tucked under his parents’ bed, leaving him bored and restless. He’s got nothing to do but sit around the apartment, which puts him at home when the exterminator arrives.

The man, ex-Army, bears a crossbow, keys to every lock in the building, a blood-red business card, and a seeming hatred of all things pestilent. Anjela “Anje” Gabrail tells Eric to keep an eye out for rats around the building. When Eric sees one in the basement and calls Anje, the man invites him to help do some recon work and find the rat’s nest, so as to best destroy the problem. Lacking other distractions, Eric agrees, but later he begins to have second thoughts. Unfortunately, the game is on, and Anje is not one to back down.

Will Anje get his “man”? Or will the rat still be scurrying around the building come Christmas morning? Ultimately, Eric is going to have to decide which side of the battle he’s going to come down on, and it will take all of his focus and resources to ensure victory.

The story is probably a little intense for those children under the age of eight, but fair game for the rest of us. Plus, I will say that although I recognized the book as an allegory early on, it wasn’t until I read the author’s note at the end that the final bit fell into place for me. Clever.

Pages: 135

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