Book Review: Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas- AntiThesis

Rats Saw God, by Rob Thomas, captures the timeless struggle of adolescence. Unlike similar modern novels, this one creates 3D teen characters. None of them feel like caricatures of teenage behavior and attitudes. Their raw and realness matches those of your friends, family and neighbors. Rats Saw God’s authenticity transcends age limits.


Steve York’s senior year consists of smoking pot and barely passing classes. To graduate, he must write a 100-page essay.  His essay letters unfolds the funny and heartbreaking adventures of his former group G.O.D (Grace Order of Dadaists), and his relationship with former girlfriend Dub. Steve’s essayistic journey reawakens the part of himself that enjoys life.  And he begins to live again. Overall, Rats Saw God is one of the best young-adult novels out there. It effortlessly portrays many of the struggles of growing up, but it keeps the balance between being  funny and tragic.

The only negative element of Rats Saw God is its predictability. The biggest turn of events in the novel can be predicted even by the most distracted readers. However, this flaw doesn’t detract from the many glaring assets of Rats Saw God.

The theme of fantasy vs. reality expresses an important truth about teenagers. As extremist, teens often see the world as a polarizing place. It’s either a complete hellhole or heaven on earth.

Steve experiences both degrees of these extremes. In his life in Houston, Texas, he’s naïve and hopeful. The world offers him so much. So when he discovers life is not perfect, he crumbles. The too pessimistic California version of Steve shuts everyone out. He views the world as too painful and people as too damaging to care for. It’s only through looking at his old life does he realize the negative effects of this attitude.

In the book, the reveal of Kurt Cobain’s death also impacts this theme. As a worshipped figure by teens, they idolize his life and him. Nevertheless, Cobain committed suicide, which by definition implies he was unhappy with certain parts of his life. The fantasies teens have about Cobain’s life most likely did not match his reality.

Apathy is another important subject of Rats Saw God.  Leader of G.O.D, Doug, feels indifferent towards the high school experience. Only because of a bet with his father does he create G.O.D. However, the group forces him and the other members to care about each other, high school and G.O.D.

Steve’s mirroring his father’s apathetic behavior also establishes this important theme. Steve judges his astronaut father for lack of real emotions, for never being the man Steve felt he should be. But when Steve’s sister, Sarah, accuses him of doing the same thing, Steve’s reflects on his father and himself. He realizes that the man he spent years hating is the same man he’s becoming. He must change.

Young Adult novels have been a favorite of mine all my life. However, the last couple of years, I find myself struggling to enjoy them. As a teen, I could relate to these characters more: they were me. But as an adult, many of these books don’t translate well to my new life perspective. Also, unfortunately, being an English major in college has made me a slight book snob. If a novel doesn’t inspire or challenge me, I do not connect with it.

Nevertheless, Rats Saw God is one of those rare novels that made me reflect on my teen days. There have only been a couple other YA novels that I’ve read recently to do this. Rats Saw God has been the most successful of these novels. Not necessarily for being a flawless literary work, but for feeling honest in its depiction of youth. The lens on Steve shows him as someone just as screwed up as the other characters in the novel.

Another of the many things I enjoyed about Rats Saw God was showing how self-centered most teens can be, but without necessarily making that a bad thing. It’s more of a fact that shapes their perception of the world. Steve took awhile to look pass what Dub did to him, and look at what he did to Dub, and what Dub’s issues were that led to their breakup.

Thomas did a respectable job by not making Dub the monster. This is a problem too many male novelist face. They create an unbelievable female lead or an unforgivable one. Dub felt just as human as Steve, if not more.

Rats Saw God captures the struggle of being too young to realize pain often defines our lives. While also being too young to realize pain’s temporary status. Rats Saw God  deserves ranking in the canon of great Young Adult novels. It needs more recognition for its quiet brilliance. 7.7/10


3 thoughts on “Book Review: Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas- AntiThesis

  1. Hi, I know this was posted eons ago and this is weird and random of me to respond now, but this is the only post I could find that addresses Dub and Steve’s breakup.

    I finished RSG last night before going to bed and thoroughly enjoyed it (I have recently been on a hunt to find a YA coming-of-age novel that was actually good, and this one did the trick for me), but the one problem I have is Dub’s seemingly random and out of place betrayal of Steve. You mention in your post that Steve is forced to look at what Dub did to him, what he did to Dub, and what issues Dub had that led to their breakup, but the only conclusion I can draw is that Dub was just a fake bitch, or maybe, that Steve was really bad at sex?? She seemed to be absolutely head over heels for him the whole novel but then randomly goes for Sky instead, just because Steve won an essay contest that she didn’t? If I’m missing something, which I most likely am, I’m desperate to know what it is so I can enjoy this book with all my heart.

    • Hi Aria, it has actually been awhile since I read it but I think the way I interpreted it was that Steve became too self-involved. He ignore Dub (in a way), or didn’t look pass the surface. This ultimately lead to their breakup. In the end, he became like the man he hated the most: his father. Steve mentions over and over again that his dad never really paid attention to the family. He was always in his own world, and distant. I think in the end, Dub cheated on Steve for the same reasons. Yes, it was partly because of jealousy over Steve winning the contest, but it also was because Steve failed to really see and understand Dub. I think she cheated because Sky saw her, but also, in a way to hurt Steve. It all came down to perception versus reality. In Steve’s mind, he had this perfect relationship with Dub but he missed a lot of the cues and signs that their relationship was falling apart, and that had to do with the fact that he was so self-involved, which ultimately lead to Dub’s betrayal. Does that make sense?

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