Sunday, April 10, 2011
The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot
This was very powerful. It starts off with Helen homeless in London. We don't know what happened to her. She has a pet rat that she talks to. She has fantasies of killing herself. She can't stand to have anyone touch her.
We get snippets of Helen's earlier life. Her mother seems distant, unhappy and disinterested in Helen, but Helen seems to have a loving and close relationship with her father.
In the present day, a boy named Ben offers Helen a place in a building he and some others have been squatting in, and Helen and Ben become friends, although Helen is still distant and get stand to be touched. Ben admires Helen's drawings, which are all copies of Beatrix Potter's pictures.
Through more flashbacks we see how Helen's father began molesting her when she was eight. She became silent and withdrawn. The day Helen fought back was also the day she cut off her hair (her father always called her "Blondie" and ran away). Helen is angry with herself and ashamed.
After leaving the squat in London, Helen travels out to the country where Beatrix Potter lived. Here she's taken in by a couple that run a bed and breakfast, and Helen begin to work for them. They offer her a permanent place. Here Helen begins to work through what happened to her. She buys books on incest and sexual abuse. She figures out it wasn't her fault. She didn't do anything wrong. She goes to the top of a mountain and screams out everything she's angry about.
The most powerful part was when she confronted her father. She lets her parents know where she is, and they come to see her. They assume she's coming back with them, but she tells them otherwise. She then speaks with her father privately. She tells him what he did was wrong, and how it made her feel. She says she doesn't care what was happening in his life at the time, it didn't make it right. He didn't love her, or he wouldn't have done it.
It doesn't change her father, of course. But it changes Helen. She is able to move on. She doesn't have to be afraid anymore. She lets the couple that has been so kind to her hug her. Helen is able to finish her journey by visiting Beatrix Potter's house. Beatrix Potter didn't have an easy life either, and Helen takes strength from this. Helen is at last able to draw and paint pictures of her very own.
It was really moving. The confrontation with her father struck me strongly. I was trying to think if any of the other YA books I've read that have dealt with sexual abuse have that face-to-face confrontation. Definitely read this one if you haven't yet.