Everything goes wrong after Ruth loses Rodney the rat, a present from her Aunt Mary Ellen: Mary Ellen dies, Ruth fights with her friends, and her family becomes an embarrassment.
In an opening scene, Ruth’s relationship with Mary Ellen is warmly drawn, presenting a stark contrast to her situation one year later. In a pivotal move, Ruth skips a family outing to search for Rodney, an eerily lifelike, clothed toy. Sympathetic children will understand the link between Ruth’s decision and her grief; all will recognize her loneliness. When she finds Rodney, he has come alive and offers her three chances at the perfect life. Problems develop with each and even become menacing when it seems that Ruth may not be able to escape before being permanently stuck, making readers doubt Mary Ellen: Was Rodney really a good-luck gift? Two of the scenarios offer familiar fare, but in one, Ruth is deposited in a draconian 1950s Catholic orphanage, where she befriends a girl who will grow up to touch Mary Ellen’s life. However, this connection is tenuous and the dream-lives feel rather superfluous, since it is the search itself that sparks Ruth’s memories of Mary Ellen’s encouragement, allowing her to grow. A subplot concerning an abused schoolmate is almost lost until, in a questionable move, Ruth gives Rodney to him.
Despite winning, original moments, the parts, unfortunately, do not add up to a satisfying whole. (Fantasy. 8-12)