Author: Terry Pratchett
Recommended for: Older readers 9th grade+
Call Number/Link: TEEN FICTION PRATCHETT
Dodger is a tosher, a 17 year old street urchin, who plumbs the depths of London’s Storm Sewers for washed away valuables. His life is forever changed when he rescues a woman from a gang of ruffians intent on murder. Helped by notable author Charles Dickens and many others, Dodger seeks to help the young lady and deliver her from those who would do her harm.
Set in set broadly in the first quarter of Queen Victoria’s reign, this is a love letter to Dickens and the entire Victorian literary genre as a whole. A virtual who’s who of the 19th century British elite drift through the chapters, Queen Victoria, Robert Peel, Angela Burdett-Coutts, Benjamin Disraeli, and even the murderous Sweeny Todd.
It moves at a decent clip and had a solid ending, but could be a bit tighter in the editing. There’s a bit of repetition, that could have been pulled. My other critique is that the female love interest is more MacGuffin than person. The sad part of this is Terry Pratchett can write women quite well and this poor use of a character with an interesting backstory is a real waste.
The other main concern in recommending the book is that it is a bit earthy. While not directly vulgar, the book doesn’t bowdlerize away some of the rougher elements of Victorian life–the exploitation of minors, the cruelty, and casual familiarity of death. Prostitution, while not explicitly mentioned, per say, is referenced in the book. It is a part of the ‘Facts of Life’ for someone in Dodger’s world. I would not recommend it for middle school grades and below.
Oddly enough, even with all the Victorian-style penny dreadfulness, the book is upbeat. Dodger’s life is such that the doesn’t have time to sit and lament the woes and unfairness of the poor.
The book won the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, Honor.
Who would I recommend this title for? I definitely would not go lower than 9th grade for the book; while this features a youthful protagonist, I would not call it a YA novel. Fan of Terry Pratchett will devour this, as might fans of Jane Austin or other Victorian literary genre fans–such as Sherlock Holmes. People interesting in headstrong male protagonists will enjoy this. As mentioned, the book suffers from a lack of strong female characters save for perhaps for Lady Angela Burdett-Coutts and thus has a narrower appeal. In some ways I found it similar to Patricia Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons