“Rats Saw God” follows the story of Steven York, a high school senior who went from promising student to checked-out stoner in the course of a year. In an effort to engage him, Steven’s guidance counselor asks him to write a 100-page essay in order to graduate. What follows is a split narrative between the previous year Steven spent in Texas with his astronaut father and the present in San Diego where he struggles to put his life back together after getting his heart broken by his first love.
I was a little skeptical of another white, male coming-of-age story, just because I feel like it’s a tired genre. However, Thomas’s voice and skill breathe some life into it. There are some fun subplots: the student group named GOD (an acronym, I forget what the first two letters stand for but the D is for Dadaism), starting because of a bet and eventually actually being devoted to the creation of Dadaist art in a high school. Punk bands are formed, bizarre sculptures are created, but the heart of the book are Steven’s relationships with his father and his first girlfriend, Dub. The central plot point that drives Steven from Texas back to San Diego is that Dub breaks his heart (this is not a spoiler, you know this from the beginning of the book and see it unfold until the end).
The themes of family and dealing with the flawed humanity of one’s parents as a young adult are ever-present in Thomas’s later stuff, and you can really see the beginnings of that here. York’s type-A, emotionally restrained father is a far cry from Keith Mars, but the tension between parent’s expectation and reality is there.
Overall this lacks the punch of Rob Thomas’s tv work and the Veronica Mars novels, but it’s a fun early work for fans and a quick but emotional read.