An 11-year-old home-schooled girl who longs to live like everyone else learns that her strange life with her father may be weird, but it’s also wonderful.
Ratchet, whose real name is Rachel, lives with her father, a “crazy environmentalist,” who believes that he has a God-given mission to save the Earth. In consequence, Ratchet, who lost her mom when she was 5, wears thrift-shop clothing and helps her father repair cars in their driveway. This makes her both an able mechanic and a magnet for the derision of the neighborhood kids. Ratchet longs to go to school, to buy cute clothing and, most significantly, to make a friend. In a book that is full of surprises, it turns out that assisting her protest-junkie father in his court-ordered community service as a go-cart–building instructor is the catalyst she needs. This is how she will find female helpers and role models, make a friend and even save a little piece of the world. The story has a gimmick; it consists entirely of entries in the language-arts notebook Ratchet uses to record her home-school assignments. At first it seems artificial, with observations that are too on-the-nose. But as the novel’s unexpectedly multifaceted plot comes together, it becomes increasingly compelling, suspenseful and moving.
Triumphant enough to make readers cheer; touching enough to make them cry. (Fiction. 9-13)