First Edition.
Publisher, Date:
New York, NY : Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, [2019]
402 pages ; 24 cm
9780062899835 (hardcover)
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Control Number:
Call Number:
F Oat
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# System items in:
Fiction/Biography Profile
Violet Rue Kerrigan (Female), Stuck between a rock and a hard place
African Americans
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Trade Reviews

  Publishers Weekly Review

Oates's remarkable latest (after 2018's Hazards of Time Travel) chronicles how a 12-year-old girl's fate is determined after her family disowns her. The story opens in 1991 as Violet Rue Kerrigan, the youngest in a large Irish-Catholic family where loyalty is highly valued, grows up doted on by her loving but short-tempered father. She witnesses what later turns out to be her eldest brothers, teenagers Jerome and Lionel, attempting to get rid of evidence that they had participated in the racially charged beating of a high school kid. Violet's guilt-compounded by Lionel assaulting her and the death of their victim-makes her blurt out the truth unsolicited. Her parents, who can't bring themselves to believe the truth about their sons, send Violet to live with an aunt in an upstate New York town 80 miles away. Violet spends her life hoping for her family's change of heart and worrying about her brothers' retaliation. Her urge to not betray anyone again makes her vulnerable to sexual abuse by a teacher and a lecherous uncle. Despite it all, Violet becomes a survivor who ekes out a living through manual labor and manages to attend college at night. Oates's novel adroitly touches on race, loyalty, misogyny, and class inequality while also telling a moving story with a winning narrator. This book should please her fans and win her new ones. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

  Booklist Review

On the night a popular high-school student from South Niagara's black neighborhood is murdered, 12-year-old Violet Rue Kerrigan overhears her brothers, Jerr and Lionel, talking about a fight. Realizing that Violet has been eavesdropping, they exact a promise of silence, one that Lionel reinforces by viciously assaulting his sister. Violet cracks under the combined pressures of secrecy, violence, and the relentless tension of living in a household where her parents' approval is always sought, rarely given. She unburdens herself to a teacher, leading to her brothers' arrest and the intervention from Child Protective Services, which sends Violet to live with relatives in another city. But Violet is far from safe, and her vulnerability renders her the perfect prey for pedophiles at home and school and at the mercy of domineering men for the rest of her life. Oates' frequent themes of exile, predators and their victims, racial conflicts, and gender violence coalesce in this psychologically and socially complex portrait of a young woman's struggle as she loses her family but finds herself.--Carol Haggas Copyright 2019 Booklist

  Kirkus Review

A young girl is exiled from her family after she reveals her brothers' involvement in a brutal crime.Oates (Mysteries of Winterthurn, 2018, etc.) has often found her fictional subject matter in the lives of girls and young women struggling with the aftermath of trauma. This time her main character is Violet Rue Kerrigan, youngest of seven siblings in a close-knit, working-class Irish Catholic family living on Oates' upstate New York turf in the early 1990s. It's a family imbued with sexism and racism, led by an angry father and a mother who teaches her three daughters compliance as a way to survive such men; as Violet says: "If you do not antagonize them, if you behave exactly as they wish you to behave, they will not be cruel to you." Violet learns the terrible consequences of noncompliance when she's 12. Her two oldest brothers have already evaded punishment for a gang rape when, one night, out drinking, they encounter a lone black teenager and beat him savagely. Violet is the only one who knows their secret. After the boy dies, she panics and tells her school principal and nurse what she knows. She's put in protective custodyone brother has injured her as a threatbut is utterly shocked to learn that her family doesn't want her back. Oates follows Violet for more than a decade as, marked by the traumas of her exile and her upbringing, she is targeted by a series of male predators. Her mental stability sometimes deteriorates into the fever-dream state Oates can evoke so well; the author shifts point of view among first, second, and third person as if Violet can't even get a grip on her own identity. Violet's fraught relationship with her family moves to an explosive climax, but there are signs of redemption as well, for her at least.Oates explores the long echoes of violence born of sexism and racism in one young woman's life in this deft psychological thriller. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
<p>"A painful truth of family life: the most tender emotions can change in an instant. You think your parents love you but is it you they love, or the child who is theirs?" --Joyce Carol Oates, My Life as a Rat</p> <p>Which should prevail: loyalty to family or loyalty to the truth? Is telling the truth ever a mistake and is lying for one's family ever justified? Can one do the right thing, but bitterly regret it? </p> <p>My Life as a Rat follows Violet Rue Kerrigan, a young woman who looks back upon her life in exile from her family following her testimony, at age twelve, concerning what she knew to be the racist murder of an African-American boy by her older brothers. In a succession of vividly recalled episodes Violet contemplates the circumstances of her life as the initially beloved youngest child of seven Kerrigan children who inadvertently "informs" on her brothers, setting into motion their arrests and convictions and her own long estrangement.</p> <p>Arresting and poignant, My Life as a Rat traces a life of banishment from a family--banishment from parents, siblings, and the Church--that forces Violet to discover her own identity, to break the powerful spell of family, and to emerge from her long exile as a "rat" into a transformed life.</p>
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