Author: Sterling North
Why are so many classic young adult books about the relationship between man and his animal companions? Shiloh, The Incredible Journey, Rascal. They all tell stories of love and friendship between humans and our best friends, often in heartbreaking detail. But why are they so touching? We must desire that connection, to a pet or to nature, and apparently we like imagining it even if we don’t have it. I grew up with dogs but I no longer have any, so I understand the need to have an animal friend, and I guess reading about that bond fills some sort of hole. So for whatever reason, I love reading this genre of novel, and I enjoyed yet another excellent and beautiful story in Rascal.
The book is the tale of Sterling North’s childhood during World War I in southern Wisconsin. Set in his small hometown, the story follows Sterling’s youth, from trapping in the woods to building a canoe in his living room. His pleasant life changes for the the better when he captures a baby raccoon, takes him home, makes him a pet, and names him Rascal. This curious companion accompanies Sterling on many adventures: canoe rides, parades, camping trips, nights under the stars. And the two friends form a bond of love that cannot be measured, as Sterling deals with the hardships of life; his brother’s fight in France, his mother’s early death, his family’s distant but deep affection. Through it all, Rascal is there by his side, a friendly face during the difficulties of growing up.
It’s a truly beautiful story, as cheesy as that might sound. It’s amazing the bond we can make with the animals in our lives, using them to help us in ways that perhaps even we didn’t know we needed. Rascal definitely did that for Sterling, becoming his best friend and perhaps the most important influence of his life. And it’s great that the story is true and feels real all the way through. It’s like a slice of life during this time in America, a picture of youth and freedom and nature as seen by an adventurous boy. The details are the strongest parts, the descriptions of every day events that seem so other-worldly now. The prose isn’t as great as some similar novels I’ve read; it just doesn’t read like a poem like others of its genre. But the story is great, the time period is perfectly captured, and I enjoyed every minute of this wonderful book.
My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰