A debut middle grade novel about a girl named Ratchet and her quest to make a friend, save a park, and find her own definition of normal. Ratchet tells her story through the assignments in her home school journal.
If only getting a new life were as easy as getting a new notebook.
But it’s not.
It’s the first day of school for all the kids in the neighborhood. But not for me. I’m home schooled That means nothing new. No new book bag, no new clothes, and no friends – old or new. The best I’ve got is this notebook. I’m supposed to use it for my writing assignments, but my dad never checks. Here’s what I’m really going to use it for:
Ratchet’s Top Secret Plan
Project Goal: turn my old, recycled, freakish, friendless, motherless life into something shiny and new.
This year, I’m going make something change.
For me, the best part of the going-back-to-school process was always the new school supplies. Fresh pens and pencils, clean notebooks, pristine backpacks – there’s some kind of allure that draws my friends and I to the stationary section every time, even though we are all long past our “first days of school”. It’s also one of first things I connected to with Ratchet, the protagonist of Cavanaugh’s new book. Ratchet is eleven, and is starting a new year of being home schooled with a new purple notebook with white pages…
Because this year I need
This year I need
A cardboard cover
In a cool cover.
This year I need
Something new to write on
And to happen.
Ratchet is a bright voice on the lined sheets of paper as she uses each of her writing prompts to take us through her life with her environmentally hopefully father in their ‘fix’er-up-er’ homes and reclaimed furniture. What Ratchet doesn’t have is a conventional life, filled with new clothes, friends and a mother to look out for her, and this is the year that those losses are felt most deeply.
I really enjoyed Ratchet; she’s a very normal young girl who is turning into a teenager, and that involves questioning everything about her life (there’s a reason teenage-hood is referred to as a second toddler-hood). She, like every young woman, just wants to fit in, even if that means joining a “charm class” to teach her all the things she thinks she needs to know. What makes Ratchet stand out, however, is that she is also fully aware of who she is as a person, and she knows her own strengths and weaknesses. She has no time for makeup and magazines; instead, she uses her time to help her father rebuild engines and complete her schoolwork. She soon realizes that she’s not meant to be one of the ‘charm’ girls’ and she will need to find her own style and her own sense of self, even as she acknowledges that it means she will likely remain lonely.
As she becomes more confident in her own abilities, she sees others becoming more aware of her as well, and her scenes with Hunter are sweet and touching. The journal entries reflected the thoughts of a rather mature eleven year old, so the crush is innocent and fresh and achingly lovely to observe. I also appreciated that her relationship with her father, although unconventional, was still very much that of a normal pre-teen and parent – he did things that annoyed her, and she behaved normally in return, giving him the silent treatment and defying his wishes. Every teen has been embarrassed by their parent at some point, and everyone also learns to accept and appreciate their parents as they begin to mature. My heart ached for her and for her father when she finally discovered the truth about her mother, and it’s a credit to the writing that the pain was realistic but also cathartic for the two of them and their relationship.
I loved the use of the different writing prompts as chapter headings and models for writing. If I was still in the classroom, I would definitely use some of them myself, because I think they were perfect at capturing what Ratchet needed to say without overloading us with information. The use of different writing styles and formats kept us engaged with Ratchet’s story, as the writing became shorter and faster-paced as the book reached its climax. There is a lot of detail that was given in the assignments, but there are also large parts of the story that allowed my imagination to fill in the gaps (such as some of the details of the go-cart race, or the many town council meetings), and I think that was a wise decision. Because the story is first-person, we can only see Ratchet’s limited point of view, and we as the readers are capable of reading so much more into what Ratchet tells us than what she herself realizes.
This was an absolutely charming read that kept me engaged throughout. As much as I found myself smiling at Ratchet and her writings, my heart also ached for the young girl who just wanted love and acceptance. Nancy J. Cavanaugh has written an engaging story that will leave you cheering for Ratchet right until the last page.
This Journal Belongs to Ratchet by Nancy J. Cavanaugh was published by Sourcebooks and was provided by Raincoast in exchange for an honest review. It is available for purchase from Indigo and from your favourite indie bookseller. ISBN: 9781402281068, 320 pages.