The story of a vulnerable yet courageous girl by the award-winning children’s books writer
Fourteen-year-old Lori, the narrator in Rattenvanger, doesn’t get much love, or care. Her parents are divorced. She sees little of her father and her mother has been a manic depressive for years. In fact, it is Lori who looks after her mother and keeps house, not the other way round. And that’s quite something when your mother, in a manic fit, proves capable of painting the whole house blue, furniture included. But Lori doesn’t complain. She is quickwitted enough to keep up at school without difficulty, and makes sure she never invites classmates to her home.
This vulnerable yet courageous girl is impressively portrayed by Karlijn Stoffels. Lori’s resilient optimism saves the book from any grimness, however painful and bizarre her home situation may be. Her emotional dilemma – keeping the outside world at bay while at the same time longing for friendship – ensures a superb tension throughout the book.
Her social isolation is broken for the first time when she joins in the school musical The Pied Piper of Hamelin. ‘Don’t be scared. Let go. Dare to leave the path to pick flowers,’ her music teacher keeps telling her, and that doesn’t apply just to playing the piano. And then there is her new downstairs neighbour Mark, a student, ‘friendly and concerned like a young uncle,’ with whom she finally finds a sense of security. However, when he forces the relationship into a sexual one, she becomes deeply codfused. Inevitably, she bans Mark from her life and finally dares to embark on a genuine friendship.
Stoffels doesn’t paint life to be easier than it really is. At the end of the novel, Lori doesn’t land in seventh heaven. But she has developed and grown, just like Stoffels’s other main characters, and this offers her a better perspective on life. The way in which this writer is able to convey this so convincingly in her books, which are both moving and charged without becoming oppressive, has meant that she has quickly emerged as one of her country’s most fascinating writers of children’s literature.
Peter de Boer