I found this book by seeking out suggested books for grade 9 level English. I was excited for Everest and I to read it because I am a very big fan of Good Omens, which Terry Pratchett co-wrote with Neil Gaiman (whom I also adore!) and I had heard great things about Pratchett’s Discworld series. This is a Young Adult book in a genre described as Historical Fantasy. If you aren’t sure what that means, think Forrest Gump the movie. Real life events are portrayed relatively accurately in history but with a bit of fantasy that adds new characters and links storylines that are not linked in reality. It was originally published in 2012.
The book is about a young man who survives by collecting coins and treasures from the sewers of the London Underground. He rescues a young woman from an abusive encounter which leads him to make new connections and work to solve a mystery. Growth of character and a series of life changing events ensues including a friendship with “Charlie Dickens”. It is written in the voice of Dodger, which means there is a lot of language and slang which require footnotes and definitions for most readers. Pratchett includes a lot of that context for the reader so it’s not insurmountable.
I will start off by saying I do read YA (young adult) fiction from time to time. I read this one so Everest and I could discuss it and have a shared reading experience. This YA book, however, is quite clever and gives the right amount of difficulty, complexity and uniqueness that should be sought out in books intended for tweens to teens. It is not dumbed down and thankfully doesn’t devolve into an empty romance novel (but it does include a little love!). Here is a link to the Goodreads page for it. If you also use Goodreads feel free to friend me on Goodreads!
In case you found this blog and don’t know who we are or what is going on; Everest is a 13 year old going into roughly grade 8 level of homeschooling, however he is a strong reader so we are reading at books above that level. I am an avid reader of fiction and science fiction with a smattering of most genres. We are mostly reviewing these books to share what we liked and why you may or may not also like the book. For this book, it may help you decide if you want to add it to your teens book list.
Having said all of that let’s get to the reviews!
I found this book really fun to read. It wasn’t a strong page turner until the final chapters despite having a mysterious element to it, I wasn’t as compelled to get to the “whodunnit” bit as much as I was enchanted by Dodger and the continuous building and changing of him as a young adult. The language and wit of the book were the most engaging parts for me. His interactions with Charlie Dickens, his mentor Solomon and even his antics with his smelly dog Onan. I didn’t catch or understand a number of the historical references. Some were easier to get as they were tied to popular culture, like Sweeney Todd, but many of the characters are better known from Victorian history. Despite being Canadian, I’m really not strong in British history (or any history to be honest), there is a great follow on section where Pratchett explains who a number of the characters represent as real historical figures like Robert Peel. None of this diminished how much I enjoyed the book and found the challenge of understanding the narrative and voice Pratchett wrote in. I like the narration as a unique aspect to the book and Pratchett includes enough footnotes to help, it’s not like reading Trainspotting or some other book where you spend at least a quarter of the book getting used to it. We did have to re-read some sections to ensure we figured out what was going on, but I think the challenge is good for the level.
I really appreciated the diversity of characters in the book and in Dodgers story. There is a nice theme about the treatment of women in the Victorian times and hints as to how that was and wasn’t changing. The more primary narrative about the treatment of the poor class vs the rich is well done and approachable without being too heavy emotionally. There is a sweet moral conversation throughout the book on how we care for others and ourselves in a world of have and have nots. With Dodger engaging so much with Charlie Dickens who writes for the paper Pratchett seeds a dialogue on public information and “truth”. What are facts and what is the story? How people can use the news to tell stories how they want them to appear without really lying, but with interpretations, or what they call the “fog” in the book.
I love a coming of age tale and this one didn’t fail to deliver. It leads to a great opportunity to discuss what happens to Dodger, what he learns about life outside and inside of the sewers and how that compares to issues we have currently. Feminism, classism and media as an agent for moral control are well handled in this book. Also, it’s pretty funny! I will be seeking out other books by Pratchett.
I thought Dodger was a very entertaining read. I liked that Dodger was able to mix historical Victorian times with a bit of a crime mystery fiction. I also enjoyed how they showed what toshing was like and the community of toshers. Toshers are people that go in sewers and try to find money or valuables that people have dropped to keep for themselves. I like that they talk about what toshers find, their different sayings, and who they pray to. I think Dodger praying to “The Lady” (a god like figure for toshers) explains why he respects women so much in the book. I also enjoyed how they incorporated Sweeny Todd, and Charles Dickens into the book. I thought that Charles Dickens “fog” was a great idea in the book, which is a way to explain truth and lies. I liked that they gave lots of examples of life events and how truth becomes the fog.
Though Dodger was a great book, I wish Terry Pratchett explained some of the slang better. He did a pretty good job explaining what he was talking about, but because toshers have so much slang, I didn’t understand a couple of phrases. I also had to re-read some of the parts to understand what was happening. For example, I still don’t understand what a “peeler” is. I thought it might be a gang, but my mom told me it refers to Robert Peels police force. It can be easy to miss that when it’s woven through the whole book.