Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

This Journal Belongs to Ratchet

This Journal Belongs to Ratchet

Nancy J Cavanaugh
For ages 9 to 12
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2013   ISBN: 978-1402281068

Ratchet, whose real name is Rachel, has decided that she needs to change her life. If only one could change one’s life as easily as she has changed her notebook. Instead of using the long yellow legal pads that her father bought at a garage sale, here she is with a new notebook; a nice one with white pages and a colorful cover “In cool colors.” Now Ratchet needs something “to happen” that will make her life better.

Ratchet’s problems are numerous. Everything in her life is recycled because her father is a radical environmentalist who does not believe in buying anything new if he can help it. Therefore, Ratchet’s house, the furniture in said house, and her clothes are all very obviously used. Her father is also a problem because he is not “normal” in any sense of the word. He makes a nuisance of himself at community gatherings, haranguing the local government officials for not taking care of the environment the way they should. He is also a problem because he refuses to let Ratchet go to school, because he thinks that he can teach her more than “a half-witted college graduate” can. There is also the fact that he needs her to help him work on the cars that he fixes for a living. If she were at school living a normal life, her father would not get enough work done and they would be even worse off than they already are.

When she was five Ratchet’s mother died and Ratchet is wishing more than ever that she knew what her mother was like. Maybe, if she could find out what her mother was like, Ratchet will remember more about her and perhaps even learn how to be like her. Maybe, if she is like her mother Ratchet can change her life for the better and start feeling like a real girl.

Thanks to these problems and issues Rachel is friendless, lonely, and frustrated. She decides that she has to do something to “Turn my old, recycled, freakish, friendless, homeschooled, motherless life into something new.” The first step is to go to a “Get Charmed” class at the community center. Maybe doing so will help her figure out how to fit in with other girls her age and maybe she will make some friends as well. What could be better than bonding over make up and fashion ideas. Right?

Wrong. Ratchet isn’t at the class for long before it becomes clear that she does not belong there at all. The teacher and girls are so different from Ratchet that they might as well be from an alien planet. Clearly she is going to have to try something different.

Ratchet then sets about trying to find some of her mother’s belongings. She knows that her father has a sealed box in the house somewhere and Ratchet is sure that the box contains some of her mother’s things, but her father seems determined not to let her see the box’s contents, which starts to really bother Ratchet. Her relationship with her father is further strained when he gets arrested for demonstrating against the destruction of a local park. Now Ratchet’s father has to teach a class at the community center as part of his community service, and Ratchet is going to have to help him. Worse still, the boys attending the class are boys that have often teased Ratchet about her life and her father. Ratchet’s life is supposed to be getting better but it’s just getting worse.

Using a series of language arts assignments that Ratchet is doing as part of her homeschool work, including poems and narrative exercises, the author of this book tells a story of a girl who is struggling to find her place in the world and who has to learn, the hard way, that the life she has is not as terrible as she thinks it is.