Thursday, May 9, 2013

Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era, by Sterling North

In Rascal, Sterling North tells the story of one year in his childhood.  In 1918, Sterling lives alone with his father, a widower.  His two older sisters are living their own lives elsewhere, and his older brother is overseas fighting in the war.  But apart from this, the war seems to have very little impact on his childhood.

Sterling and his father, both avid outdoorsmen, live an ideal bachelor's life.  Sterling is in the process of assembling a canoe their home's living room.  The two men cook to suit themselves.  And when his father, an attorney, is not working, the two often take extended wilderness trips.  Sterling also has a number of animals as pets, including a Saint Bernard and a tamed crow.  But what makes this year special is the addition of a raccoon kitten, named Rascal, to his herd.

Captured as a very young kit, Rascal relies on Sterling for his care in every regard.  And in return, Sterling is rewarded by seeing how Rascal develops and learns. The two are inseparable, and Rascal even shares Sterling's bed and food.  But over the course of the Summer, Rascal develops into more and more of a raccoon as well, stealing shiny objects (sometimes valuable ones) and raiding corn from the gardens of irate neighbors.  Eventually, in order to keep Rascal, Sterling is required to leash him when out, and cage him the rest of the time.

Rascal isn't the only one who is developing.  Sterling is becoming more a part of his community, learning, and growing himself.  An avid reader, he also has a talent for writing.  In the Spring, about a year after Rascal became his companion, Sterling has grown enough to understand that Rascal needs to live his own life as an independent creature, and returns him to the wild to seek his own fortune.  And encouraged by dear family, he knows that one day he'll record all of his memories of that year so others will experience them, too.

Great coming-of-age book.  Growing up "in the woods" myself, I'm surprised that his book wasn't in the curriculum.

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