The Rat Queen by Pete Hautman

Though not for every reader, The Rat Queen effectively exposes the harm caused to individual souls by hiding or excusing their own sins.

The Rat Queen by Pete Hautman. Candlewick, 2022, 390 pages.

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 11-18

The Sin eater

Annike (Annie) Klimas has been homeschooled ever since third grade, when she got into an argument with her teacher about her home country. Mr. Jackson insisted Litvania was not an actual country, but Annie knew it was. Both her parents emigrated from there! After a visit to the principal’s office her father withdrew her from the public school: “We have plenty of books at home.” Including a book of Litvian fairy tales in their native language, some of which Papa doesn’t feel comfortable reading. For Annie it’s a lonely life filled with mysteries, like how and why her mother died. Also why Papa comes home from work looking old and later emerges from his study, after an hour of intense writing, as his youthful and handsome self.

On her twelfth birthday Annie learns one secret, when she receives a box of colored pencils and yellow paper. This is the family heritage, the ability to cicenja, or cleanse themselves of wrongdoing. If, every day, Annie will write everything she feels guilty about on a piece of yellow paper, roll up the paper and thrust into a hole in the floor known as the “eater of sins,” her guilt will disappear. Papa is right: Annie learns to rationalize all her anger and petty cruelties—but at the same time, she stops growing.

The Sin canceller

Though never graphic or inappropriate for middle-graders, the tone of the story approaches the horror genre at times, with mysterious rustlings and scratchings under the floor . . . and rats. It may be too much for sensitive readers. Even those who read straight through (and I found it hard to put down) may not know what to make of the ending. But as I’ve often said, the purpose of fiction is not to provide answers, but to raise the right questions. “What do we do with our sins?” is a question children need to consider, especially at a time when they are encouraged to “feel good about themselves” no matter what. Only Christ can provide the definitive answer, but the answer is most clear after we feel the weight of guilt.

Overall Rating: 4,25 (out of 5)

Worldview/moral value: 4

Artistic/literary value: 4.5

Read more about our ratings here.                 

Also at Redeemed Reader:

Resource: One fictional character who experience joy and relief after bearing the burden of sin is Christian, of Pilgrim’s Progress. We have lots of resources on the book, including a study guide and original coloring book (in our store). Type “Pilgrim’s Progress” in our search box and explore to your heart’s content.

Review: Pete Hautman asks another important question in Slider: Is a man more than the sum of his digestive system?

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