Monday, September 28, 2009

Review of We Can't All Be Rattlesnakes by Patrick Jennings

Jennings, Patrick. We Can’t All Be Rattlesnakes. HarperCollins, 2009.

After a boy named Gunnar captures her, puts her in a cage, and names her “Crusher,” a gopher snake vows to live free or die. Unfortunately, this is easier said that done, as Crusher’s fellow prisoners – a lizard and a tortoise – can attest. Crusher is just one of many animals that have suffered and even died at the hands of this “slimy” young human, who spends most of his time playing video games when not alternately mauling and neglecting his pets.

Although she refuses out of pride to eat the live mouse that Gunnar lowers into her cage, Crusher decides that the only way to freedom is to get Gunnar to trust her by making nice. She lets Gunnar pick her up and hold her, flicks her tongue sympathetically, hisses at his enemies, and listens to him – and although her attempt at escape fails, she finds herself feeling strangely sympathetic toward this unlikable but pitiable boy. Weirder yet, she bonds with the hyperactive mouse (“Breakfast”) with whom she now shares living quarters and finds herself treating the other captured reptiles, whom she formerly thought of only as food or lesser beings, with respect.

This story is necessarily told from Crusher’s point of view, and her knowing, dry, and sardonic voice is a delight. Her scathing remarks on almost every creature and topic are invariably “overheard” (through reptile telepathy) and remarked upon by her fellow prisoners – it’s a good thing Gunnar, his rowdy friends, and his hapless parents don’t know what they're saying. Crusher’s unwilling contact with other creatures forces this habitual loner to come off her high horse a bit and consider other points of view, while still retaining her fresh, don’t-mess-with-me attitude. By the end of the book, the entwined fates of Crusher and Breakfast will come as no surprise to any reader.

This book may well cause young owners of small pets to gulp and re-examine the way they treat their animal companions – but they, and most readers, will cheer Crusher on and relish her eventual well-earned return to freedom and wildness. Highly recommended for kids ages 8 to 12.

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