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Grace Lin,
The Year of the Rat
Little, Brown & Co., 2008.

Ages 8-12

The Year of the Rat, the much-awaited sequel to Grace Lin’s The Year of the Dog, opens, once again, with the family celebration of Chinese New Year, this time joined by Pacy’s best friend Melody and her family. As they sit round the table, Dad tells "The Story of the Twelve Animals of Chinese New Year or How the Rat was First," which explains how the rat became the first animal of the Chinese Zodiac and is therefore associated with new beginnings.

Pacy is very happy with her life as it is and is not sure that she wants there to be any "new beginnings". She becomes absolutely certain of this when the reality of Melody's move to a new city hits home. To make matters worse, her schoolmates expect her to be friends with the new boy in class, simply because they share the same skin colour. She resents them for that. And even more so she resents him, for having  moved into Melody’s old home.

Pacy learns some valuable lessons as the year progresses, from the importance of remaining true to herself and doing her best to putting herself in other people’s shoes and trying to understand a situation from their perspective. Indeed, Grace Lin writes incredibly convincingly in the voice of a young girl who finds herself in the throes of growing up. The first-person narrative means that readers become caught up in her highs and lows, through class projects and family celebrations. The book follows the format of The Year of the Dog. 'Pacy's' drawings scattered throughout the book are as charming as ever; and, still serving as reference points to Pacy when she has to make up her mind about what to do in different situations, there are more of the stories that Mom and Dad tell about their own lives when they were young.

Girls will love this book – and some of Mom’s stories such as "Canned Meat" and "Mom's School Lunch", would stand alone as a class readaloud to introduce a discussion about being considerate and not making assumptions about other people.  This book is a real gem, and we would welcome seeing Pacy again one of these Chinese Zodiac years.

Marjorie Coughlan
March 2008
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