I couldn’t get into Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas until I put it in context. I was confused by the cultural references and where today’s teens fit into it. I did the obvious and flipped to the publication date: 1996. Then it all made sense. The book became exponentially better. Especially since it takes place in high school, and mid-1990s high schooling is one of my areas of knowledge.
Oh yeah. This is young adult fiction.
Steve York’s parents have divorced, and despite the arrangement that he spend the school year in Texas with his father — a semi-famous man he refers to as “the astronaut” because he is an astronaut, Steve is back in California with his mom. His guidance councilor, meeting him over an infraction involving weed on school property, discovers that Steve York is smart. One of two merit finalists in the school. So why is he in danger of flunking English? Good question. The councilor assigns him a 100-page writing assignment. Steve’s story shoots back and forth between present day in California and why he was driven out of Texas.
Obviously, this story involves a girl.
Kurt Cobain references; Sinead ripping up a photo of the pope; the casual dress of a non-girlie girl; the entire Seattle slacker vibe, as interpreted by a super-smart high school boy. This book is really cute and written in that sassy voice Rob Thomas used to make me love Veronica Mars.
“I spent the next hour in front of my bathroom mirror on a blackhead search and destroy mission. The assignment was treacherous. Squeeze one before it’s properly aged and you end up with a pinball stuck just inside your cheek. Allow one to fester and you learn on a midnight trip to the men’s room that your face resembles Pompeii. Concluding the job with a Q-tip and alcohol rubdown, I skipped the standard intermission for the red pinchy marks on my face to return to uniform paleness, confident I would run into neither Winona Ryder nor Dub before I regained an unscourged look.”
This book totally took me back to high school and early college. The smell of beer breath, the silk shirts boys wore to dances. The way girls could be cute without being conventionally pretty in a way that doesn’t seem to exist now. And students making a grand show of being nonconformists.
Sometimes I think the 90s were better than I gave them credit for.