Rats Saw God is Rob Thomas's first novel, but lucky for us, not his last. Teen readers everywhere will enjoy this romance novel told from a male's perspective. The story is about messed-up, drugged up Steve York, currently in his senior year in high school. He is brilliant, a Merit finalist, but has thrown the towel in on academics. Short one English credit to graduate; he is offered a chance to earn it by writing a one-hundred page essay, by the counselor, DeMouy. And so the story begins. The format is interesting, flipping from the current happenings in his life, to reflections of his past in Houston living with his father (using different fonts for the two places and times is helpful to the reader.)
The story starts off in San Diego. Steve is a mess, as the first line of the book proclaims, "I tried to clear my head of the effects of the fat resiny doobie I'd polished off an hour before." The reader wants to know more, so they keep on. True to YA form, Steve is unhappy with his appearance, stating that he is "skinny, bony, scrawny, gawky." The reader of the "paper" that Steve is composing for his one hour credit becomes aware of the events that took place to putting him into his current condition. An important part of his past is his connection with GOD, or Grace Order of Dadaists and its leader Doug. This is where Steve finds his niche and his girlfriend, Dub. A large portion of the book covers his intense relationship with her, from beginning to heartbreaking end. They lose their virginity to one another. (This book promotes safe sex for teens, making pointed statements regarding the importance of condoms. These teens have a future and they are wise enough to prevent any unwanted pregnancies. ) In the surprise twist at the end, Dub cheats on Steve with a favorite teacher, Sky. Steve was a good friend with him.
The disillusionment that Steve feels is poignant. He seems to have changed, matured through the experience and writing the story out for his counselor seems to be a salve for his open wounds. As he is writing the paper he meets and begins a romance with an unlikely companion, Allison. She is straight-laced, but also very intelligent; a Merit finalist herself. However, this relationship doesn't send him spinning like his first true love. When it is time to leave for college the book reads "My time with her was over, though I was sure I would stay in touch." He also comes to terms with his parents divorce and the reality of what really happened rather than what he wanted to believe. He regains faith in his father and their relationship and at the end of the book it looks like it will be more positive.
The book ends on a positive, happy note. The last statement in the book, a message for his father says, "Just tell him I made it. Tell him I'm safe and sound." This is a testimonial to his spiritual, emotional self as much, or more so, than his physical well-being. He has pulled through a rough period in his life and survived, stronger, leaving the reader feeling optimistic and encouraged.
In a 1997 article in Book Report, William McLoughlin, a YA librarian in Columbus, Ohio, summed the book up with these words: "This first novel by Rob Thomas is The Catcher in the Rye of the 1990s. With insight, honesty, and humor, the novel chronicles the odyssey of a lost teenage soul. The voices of Thomas' characters ring true. Although he is two generations removed from Salinger's Holden Caulfield, Steve reflects the timeless struggles of teenagers searching for identity, questioning authority, rejecting conformity, and confronting pain and loss. Highly Recommended."
McLoughlin, William. 1997. Reviews: fiction. Book Report 15(4):39. In EBSCOHost [database online]. Available from: http://ezproxy.twu.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.epnet.com/login.asp?profile=web&defaultdb=tfh. Accessed 7 October 03.
Thomas, Rob. 1996. RATS SAW GOD. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 0-689-80777-5.