Carlie Sorosiak’s previous books for young people were My Life as A Cat, and I, Cosmo, told from the point of view of a golden retriever, so it’s no surprise to find that this one is told as a mouse. Clementine is no ordinary mouse, though: bred in a laboratory with altered genes, she is super-intelligent. She thinks about prime numbers, dreams in Latin, and saw no reason to find her way around a maze when she could just jump out, astonishing the lab staff.
As the story begins, Clementine and another mouse with similar markings have been rescued by a kindly lab assistant, Felix, and find themselves in a mailbox (this is in the USA, so it’s a box on a post at the end of a drive). Clementine is thinking her story as she reports to Rosie, her chimpanzee friend from the lab. Unable to take the mice home, and unwilling to release them into the wild, Felix makes an inspired choice. The mailbox belongs to Pop, a kindly man who has a regular TV slot about his hobbies, and his grandson Gus spends a month with him every summer. Gus’s Dad has a low opinion of his son, and Gus is a bit clumsy, but the arrival of the mice gives both of them new focus. The other mouse, later called Hamlet, is bright, but not as intelligent. Clementine learns to play chess, and beats Pop, who used to be a champion: hearing on the radio that the lab wants to study the brains of the mice, Pop and Gus devise a plot to save them by showing the public how well ‘wondermouse’ Clementine plays chess.
There are many twists, as things don’t always go to plan, but it’s all very exciting, and eventually, of course, at the end of the story the mice and all the other lab animals have been saved and given good homes. Gus has become more confident, and Pop has found new friends. Reunited with Rosie on a visit, Clementine can finally ‘open’ her 53 letters, which she has always signed ‘Always, Clementine’. This is not a great title- would ‘Wondermouse’ have been better, to attract readers?
Although the format feels a little awkward at first, the reader gets use to it, and this is an engaging story which brings out clearly the issues about lab animals. Although US laws were tightened in 2015, millions of animals are still subjected to testing, and the Author’s Note at the end reports this sad fact and encourages us to buy cruelty-free products.