I very much enjoyed Terry Pratchett’s first foray into young adult literature. I know he’s written a handful of YA books (many of them also set in the Discworld), but I wish he had written more. He was very good at it!
One thing I loved as a kid, and which I still love now, is when children’s books have darker edges to them. Kids live in this world same as adults. They worry about death and violence and hunger. Like, kids are people, too, and their literature shouldn’t ignore or sugarcoat those aspects of humanity. The best kids and young adult books are always the ones that know this. I guessed going in Pratchett would be that kind of author, and I was right.
The Amazing Maurice is a cat, a cat who can talk. His companions are rats, rats who can talk. And think. (It all has to do with a pile of magical refuse they all ate out of at the back of Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork, long story.) What they have chosen to do with their skills is to befriend a lonely young boy and use him to perpetuate a scam on a bunch of villages, where all the rats invade a town and do rat things (pee on stuff, eat it, etc.) until the village decides to employ the services of a piper who is conveniently in town, at which point all the rats will magically fade away. (This is a twisted take on the Pied Piper tale.)
But when they get to a town that already has a rat problem, and things there are very strange, their scheme takes a turn.
The best part about this book, aside from criminal talking animals, is the existential crisis all the rats are going through. They all have names like Dangerous Beans and Hamnpork and Sardines, but some rats are smarter and more enlightened than others. So there’s this whole thing about rats learning what it means to be people and not rats that was as moving as it was ridiculous. It also works really well as a contrast against the “villain” of the book, a rat king, which was disgusting, don’t google it it’s a real thing.
Even if you haven’t read any other Discworld books, this is worth checking out, especially if you have young readers looking for some reading that’s smart and a bit cheeky.