by Mark Barratt
Eerdmans, 2009. 307 pgs. Historical fiction.
Young Joseph is the size of an eight-year old but his hard life has given him the look of someone much older. A "tosher," Joe hunts for anything of value in the sewers of Victorian London, although most of what he finds goes to pay off the interest on two guineas loaned him by "Mother," the crime boss of Proud Field, whose ample thumb is on everyone in the neighborhood. Street gangs beat him up and steal his stuff, and his home is shared floor space in a boarding house on a revolving schedule. But Joe has managed to squirrel away enough "tosh" to set himself up one day, in the only safe place he knows: the fenced garden/graveyard of The Madman, a local character of whom even Mother is afraid. When Joe meets Bess, fresh in from the country and in need of a friend, he rejects everything Mother has taught him in order to help her. Together they come face to face with the Madman and their lives take a turn neither could ever have expected. But will things be better for them? or much worse. In Joe Rat, Mark Barratt has written a deeply affecting Dickensian tale of children in terrible peril, who show themselves resourceful, reliable, and caring in desperate circumstances. Five stars. Good reading for advanced elementary readers, young adults, and adults.