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When You Wish upon a Rat

When You Wish upon a Rat

4.2 4
by Maureen McCarthy

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With echoes of such classic wish-gone-wrong books as Freaky Friday, Half Magic, and Coraline, this terrific novel has the potential to become a middle-grade staple.
Eleven-year-old Ruth Craze is pretty sure she’s stuck in the wrong life. With an absentminded inventor for a father and a flighty artist for a mother, it’s always


With echoes of such classic wish-gone-wrong books as Freaky Friday, Half Magic, and Coraline, this terrific novel has the potential to become a middle-grade staple.
Eleven-year-old Ruth Craze is pretty sure she’s stuck in the wrong life. With an absentminded inventor for a father and a flighty artist for a mother, it’s always reliable Ruth who ends up doing the dishes, paying the bills, and finding lost socks. Her brothers are no help (they’re too busy teasing her), and her friends have just decided she’s not cool enough to be a part of their group anymore. So when Rodney the Rat—a slightly sinister stuffed animal that was a gift from her favorite aunt—suggests a way out, Ruth is ready to risk everything. Three wishes. Three chances to create her perfect life. A million ways to get it wrong.

Praise for When You Wish Upon a Rat
"Winning, original moments."
Kirkus Reviews

"An engaging look at friendship and family."

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Australian author McCarthy (Rose by Any Other Name) creates a fun variation on the three wishes motif in her first middle-grade novel, which features Ruth Craze, an 11-year-old who has had it with her sloppy, noisy family. A magic toy rat named Rodney, inherited by Ruth from her beloved aunt, provides three opportunities for Ruth to change her life. "You describe your perfect life and I'll do my very best to get it happening for you," claims the talking rodent. Mostly, Ruth wants to get rid of her annoying family members, but predictably she discovers that trying to change or escape them results in more pain than gain. Having perfect parents, it turns out, can be even more irksome than having eccentric ones, and Ruth also learns that she isn't cut out for a restricted life at boarding school or the flashy lifestyle of a celebrity. Smart, big-hearted, and believably flawed, Ruth has all the characteristics of a classic heroine; trickster Rodney, brash but lovable enough to win his mistress's affection, remains more of an enigma. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)
VOYA - Courtney M. Krieger
Eleven-year-old Ruth hates her life. She has a flighty mother who always looks like a slob, an absent-minded father who wastes the family’s money on pointless inventions, and annoying brothers who get all of the attention. To make matters worse, Ruth is a pariah at school because her former “friends” have been spreading nasty rumors about her. As a result, when Ruth finds the opportunity to change the course of her life with the help of a magical rat, she cannot wait to shed this life. Unfortunately, Ruth just might get what she wishes for. McCarthy’s middle grade book creates an entertaining story that addresses sibling rivalry, death, abuse, and tween mean girls. The novel is geared toward readers between eight and twelve years of age, and the main frustration is the language barrier. Since the story is set in Australia, readers will struggle with most of the slang, which causes scenes to lose some of their meaning. In addition, the novel is told from Ruth’s perspective; however, there are several scenes where the novel reads like an adult trying to sound like an eleven-year-old, which makes her voice less authentic. Overall, this novel addresses some very real struggles that young readers experience, and it effectively shows--with each wish granted--that the grass is not always greener on the other side. As a result, this novel would be a good addition to any library or teacher shelf. Ages 11 to 14.
School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—In this fantasy set firmly in a realistic world, Ruth, who is responsible and organized, feels that she doesn't belong in her lackadaisical family as they don't appreciate her. In addition, she has been rejected by her group of friends at school for not being cool enough. Ruth's beloved aunt gives her the gift of a mysterious stuffed rat, which is lost on the side of the road during a scuffle with her brother. After her aunt dies, and with the encouragement of a boy in her class, Ruth returns to find the rat and discovers that he is magical: he gives her three chances to choose a different life. In each case, she is able to stay in that version for up to a day, but before the day is up, she has to find a hidden door if she wishes to escape. If she fails to do so, she will remain in that reality forever. The rat's ability to understand Ruth's desires are somewhat questionable, and Ruth lands up first in a "perfect" family, then in an orphanage. Through these magical experiences she grows in wisdom and understanding. The predictable ending is enlivened by the suggestion that Ruth was able to influence the present during her time in an alternate life set in the past, and by the side plot about her friend who is being abused by his father. Middle grade readers who like their fantasy with a good dose of realistic fiction will appreciate this one.—Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City
Kirkus Reviews
Everything goes wrong after Ruth loses Rodney the rat, a present from her Aunt Mary Ellen: Mary Ellen dies, Ruth fights with her friends, and her family becomes an embarrassment. In an opening scene, Ruth's relationship with Mary Ellen is warmly drawn, presenting a stark contrast to her situation one year later. In a pivotal move, Ruth skips a family outing to search for Rodney, an eerily lifelike, clothed toy. Sympathetic children will understand the link between Ruth's decision and her grief; all will recognize her loneliness. When she finds Rodney, he has come alive and offers her three chances at the perfect life. Problems develop with each and even become menacing when it seems that Ruth may not be able to escape before being permanently stuck, making readers doubt Mary Ellen: Was Rodney really a good-luck gift? Two of the scenarios offer familiar fare, but in one, Ruth is deposited in a draconian 1950s Catholic orphanage, where she befriends a girl who will grow up to touch Mary Ellen's life. However, this connection is tenuous and the dream-lives feel rather superfluous, since it is the search itself that sparks Ruth's memories of Mary Ellen's encouragement, allowing her to grow. A subplot concerning an abused schoolmate is almost lost until, in a questionable move, Ruth gives Rodney to him. Despite winning, original moments, the parts, unfortunately, do not add up to a satisfying whole. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Product Details

Amulet Books
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
3 MB
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Maureen McCarthy, a bestseller in her native Australia, is the author of Cross My Heart (short-listed for four literary awards), Chain of Hearts (short-listed for the Ethel Turner Prize in the 2000 NSW Premier's Literary Awards), Rose by Any Other Name, and Somebody's Crying. This is her first middle-grade novel.

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When You Wish upon a Rat 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have rats (2). I love this book so much. I would say if you like fiction books and novles this book is just right for you. I got this book from the libry and it is great. You should get it too. I love rats and i am 10
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bwitchd3 More than 1 year ago
This is a cute story. It has a lovable premise: child gets 3 wishes with disastrous consequences. Ruth is endearing and readers will appreciate her, but they will have mixed feelings about her family. The book teaches a good lesson to children about being thankful and happy with who they are, without forcing it onto them. Geared more towards girls, but it’s a story that any child can enjoy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago