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PAPERBACK; Published: 11/13/2009
ISBN: 978-0-8028-5356-1
320 Pages
Trim Size, in inches: 5 x 7

Ages 11 & up
Lexile: 920L
Buy the ebook: Kindle

Out of stock
Darker than the dirt of the street, a creature emerged, dripping. Crouched, cowering on all fours, its head swayed this way and that, checking up and down the street. It could have been a dog. It was too big for a cat. Then, as the creature straightened up, the whites of its eyes caught the light. It was a boy.

In the dark underbelly of Victorian London a boy named Joe scavenges for scraps in the rat- infested sewers of the East End. Viciously exploited by the woman he knows as Mother -- a criminal mastermind who controls everything in the boy's small world -- Joe ekes out a living in a city where no one can be trusted. Then a chance encounter with a runaway girl and a "madman" turns Joe's world upside down. But is it a change for the better, or are things about to get a lot worse for the boy they call Joe Rat? This vivid and fast-paced historical novel will appeal especially to boys.

Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
"Joe, orphaned and unschooled, doesn't know his own age or surname. He ekes out a living as a tosher, expertly sifting through the reeking muck of Victorian London's sewers for trinkets to sell back to Mother, who controls the claustrophobic slum of Pound's Field through extortion and brute force. In permanent debt to Mother, thanks to ever-compounding interest and his monthly rent, Joe rebelliously hoards small treasures in the walled garden of The Madman, a terrifying presence holed up in a crumbling house that towers over the neighborhood. When Joe reflexively protects Bess, a shrewd, gutsy country girl on the run from her mother's scheme to sell her into sexual slavery, Joe's life changes overnight. Hiding with Bess at the Madman's house, where the ghoul emerges as a gentle, grieving soul, Joe ponders tantalizing possibilities beyond toshing. Gritty, flawed characters, propulsive plot and brooding atmosphere yield a gripping mash-up of Dickensian tropes with an Adam Rapp-like concern for throwaway children. A chilling mystery that will haunt readers long after the final page."
"A pugnacious orphan scavenging the London underworld to pay off his nefarious benefactor—it sounds like the missing YA novel of Charles Dickens or Wilkie Collins because, basically, it is. With a perfectly tuned grip of Victorian social mores and grotesqueries, Barratt spins the tale of young Joe Rat, so dubbed because of his proficiency at sifting valuables from rodent-infested sewage tunnels. But no matter how much he scrounges, it is never enough for Mother, the odious crime boss who lounges all day in her bed, letting mice scurry over her morbidly obese body. Joe's doomed existence brightens when he meets Bess, a girl who ran away when her parents tried to sell her. Together they befriend the Madman, a mysterious bogeyman who frightens all of Pound's Field with his nightly howls of Yes!! Yes!!' The unraveling of the Madman's identity is but one of the pleasures of Barratt's leisurely and convincing historical fiction, none more satisfying than Joe's slow realization that, under the mud and grime, he, too, has worth."
The Horn Book Magazine
"Here's a novel that takes its Dickensian roots seriously. . . While the story is unflinchingly realistic, there's more than a little 'Hansel and Gretel' at work as Joe and Bess navigate the dark streets and disgusting sewers of the city in their quest for freedom. As with Dickens, the happy ending might not be exactly earned, but it is welcome."
School Library Journal
"Joe makes his living in the sewers of Victorian London, working as a tosher, or garbage gleaner. For as long as he can remember he's sifted through refuse for lost coins and pieces of precious metal, and handed over his treasure to 'Mother,' a ruthless woman who exploits orphaned, impoverished children. Fate hands Joe an opportunity, however, when he crosses paths with Bess Farleigh, a girl from the country who has narrowly escaped her mother's attempt to sell her into prostitution. Acting against his better judgment, which places self-preservation above all else, Joe finds himself putting his own safety at risk to help Bess evade her pursuers. They are taken in by the local madman, who has his own secrets to share, and who plays a key role in their future. As the story unfolds, Joe must choose to trust his new friends, despite the fact that he has been betrayed many times in the past. As his character develops, his heart opens cautiously, and readers see a transformation that is both believable and endearing. A well-crafted story of adventure and friendship, Joe Rat is tightly paced and never dull. It is also a tale steeped in the sights, sounds, and smells of 19th-century London. The narrative does not shy away from the gritty realism of its setting, making the bravery and accomplishments of Joe and Bess that much more uplifting."