Grace Lin’s The Year of the Rat is a lovely little book that is quietly compelling, funny and charming. It reminds me of the kind of foreign film I like best, the type that offers a perfect slice of real life – a little sadness and a little laughter with small epiphanies along the way.
It’s a continuation of the equally endearing The Year of the Dog, where we were introduced to Pacy and her family and friends. In this book, Pacy faces many challenges as the year of the rat is a year of change. Her best friend is moving away, a new Chinese boy at school forces her to take a look at her own flaws, and she is still working hard towards her goal of becoming a writer and illustrator. I like how Grace Lin’s story (because it is truly her personal history) really makes you feel like you’ve had a glimpse into aspects of another culture, without ever seeming forced or didactic. This introduction to a different culture, along with the exploration of prejudice in the story, never overwhelms the reader, and so it will be an excellent book to get younger readers thinking about different experiences in the world. But beyond this, The Year of the Rat is simply a touching novel about facing change with hope and perspective.
Sadly, Grace Lin has recently experienced a profound loss in her family. In 2004, she and her husband established an online auction called Robert’s Snow to fundraise for Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I am sure that many of her readers, and others, will visit the site to learn more.
The Year of the Rat is published by Little Brown.