In this dark and consistently gripping mystery-Arnold's (Parts) first foray into YA territory-14-year-old Todd Anthony whets readers' appetites with "a list of possible first lines," beginning with "A dead guy washed up from the river." Set in upstate New York during the Vietnam War, Todd works at his parents' motel and spends his school days writing stories to entertain his friends. One day while biking home, he encounters a small dog; when Todd picks it up, it bites him and darts into the road where it is hit by a cement truck. He is forced to kill it-it's been too gravely wounded-and he is subsequently devastated. Todd keeps his actions secret; he writes about the incident for a school assignment, but is unable to turn it in. "I pull her closer. Feel a tiny lick on my wrist. I'm crying. Shaking. I never knew what crying really was." While searching for the dog's owner, Todd meets Rat, a tattooed and evasive veteran only a few years older than Todd, who offers him a job at the local movie drive-in. Meanwhile, a dead body has been discovered in the nearby river and Todd begins to suspect that Rat is involved on some level. Arnold amply demonstrates his ability to write for an older crowd, spinning a suspenseful yarn with a dizzying climax that sweeps Todd off his feet-both literally and emotionally-and will likely do the same to readers. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Todd is a secret writer. Mostly he writes gross stories to impress his friends. The worse thing happens when his English teacher confiscates his writing notebook. His latest story ends with her being zapped into a tornado of dust by an alien death-ray. The same day, Todd finds a stray puppy and meets Rat, a boy not much older than himself, and learns a body was found floating in the river. Todd starts to learn more about the mysterious and secretive Rat. Perhaps most surprisingly, Rat has recently returned from serving in Vietnam. As Todd struggles to learn about himself as a writer, and Rat as a person, his entire world will be turned upside down. And, as Todd points out repeatedly, it's all because of that stupid puppy. Arnold's most powerful writing comes through his descriptions of Vietnam veterans Todd meets. Arnold manages to deal with the pain the veterans feel without being preachy or political. And you have to love a book that opens with the narrator groping for the best opening line. Reviewer: Karolinde Young
Fledgling writer Todd's repertoire primarily consists of short stories in which his friends and teachers meet gruesome scatological fates. But after his teacher gets hold of one-about her-and makes a few critical red marks suggesting that she actually likes his writing style, Todd begins to look around his environment with new eyes, especially after he puts a puppy out of its misery when it gets hit by a truck on the highway. The son of a couple of motel managers in 1970s America, Todd goes from maintaining the drinks machine to helping out Rat, a mysterious Vietnam veteran not much older than himself, at the local drive-through theater. This book bills itself as mystery, but to the author's credit, the story and characters are more interesting than those in a simple whodunit. Rather than joining in with the sleuthing, readers sit back and watch Todd, Rat, and the other characters grow and take shape before their eyes. Todd is on a journey of self-discovery, as an adolescent and as an author, and kudos to Arnold for putting Rat's war experiences in context with his surroundings and the feelings of the country at the time. The book never quite falls into thriller category, but that is a good thing. The fascinating action is so character driven that it is never necessary to try to put readers on the edge of their seats. Odds are good that they are already there.
Todd, the narrator, is a writer. He's 14 years old, and he relates a story about an older boy named Rat and the death and destruction he witnesses. The time is 1972, with the war in Vietnam looming over everyone. Todd writes a story for his creative writing class in school and he writes a story for the local newspaper after he survives a flood. There are stories within stories. The setting is a town in New York State, based on Elmira, with the river running through the town and the great flood of 1972 featured prominently. Todd's parents own a motel and he works hard helping them. A guest at the motel who is violent and scary turns out to be Rat's father, and it's this horrible man's death that provides the mystery of the title. Rat slowly reveals the details of his young life: how his mother lied to an army recruiter about Rat's age and how at 14 he went off to fight in Vietnam. (Arnold cites the book Dirty Little Secrets of the Vietnam War, published by St. Martin's Press, which says that a number of underage soldiers fought and died in Vietnam in the US armed forces.) This is a boy's story, a coming-of-age tale about an innocent meeting up with a world-worn boy only slightly older than he is. Arnold grew up in Elmira and he obviously has a great deal of empathy for young Todd as he tries to gather his words and his wits to write a compelling story.
Gr 6-10 - Despite a slow start, this is a solid story set in the early 1970s, with a likable main character and a thrilling climax. Readers will sympathize with Todd, a creative, sensitive boy who helps his parents run a motel in upstate New York and dreams of becoming a writer. When he crosses paths with Rat, a moody young Vietnam veteran, he gets a job at the drive-in theater where Rat works, and finds himself fascinated by the young man, who is compelling but possibly dangerous. Todd begins to wonder if his new friend might have something to do with the unidentified body pulled out of the river. However, the mystery builds quietly as other elements take precedence, including Todd's encounter with an abandoned puppy and the subsequent rabies shots he must endure, his resentment over chores at the motel, his struggles to write a story for English class, and his grandmother's deteriorating mental condition. When the river floods, both Todd and Rat are caught up in the disaster, and the truth comes out at last. The final chapters are riveting, but readers hoping for a fast-paced mystery might be disappointed by the leisurely unfolding of events up to that point. More patient readers will enjoy the details of small-town life and identify with Todd's preoccupations and yearnings.-Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public LibraryCopyright 2007 Reed Business Information
“Realistically and sensitively written as Todd’s own manuscript, this entertaining and thoughtful account is an absorbing snapshot of early 1970s life, as well as fast-paced coming-of-age fare that should appeal to young male readers.”—Kirkus Reviews