Clementine is a mouse, an extraordinary one. On account of her altered DNA, from the day of her birth she’s been thinking about prime numbers, sometimes uses Latin and is able to sign to her friend. This amazing book is made up of imaginary letters written from this mega-intelligent mouse to her much-loved chimpanzee friend, Rosie, left behind when she escapes from a research lab. This is thanks to a research assistant who feeling guilty about her treatment, smuggles her and another mouse out of the lab, depositing them in a nearby mailbox. Clementine’s series of reports to Rosie, tell of the wonders of the outside world.
She’s discovered by the kindly Pops and his grandson Gus who on hearing of the large reward being offered for the return of the mice, resolve to keep their whereabouts a secret. This is particularly difficult when they receive a visit from the lab, on account of Clementine’s raspberry aroma. Having considered possible options, Pops decides in an unlikely consultation with Clementine that the best plan is to teach the mouse to play chess and then televise a match, with the intention of creating a public outcry against the lab. A few days later Clementine defeats not one, but five human players simultaneously. Is she now safe?
Clearly interwoven with the main storyline are other issues. The other mouse escapee, Hamlet, also has an amazing talent that is slower to reveal itself than Clementine’s; however it turns out he’s an amazing architect and using wood chips constructs a model of Notre Dame. Thus another issue to ponder is that of alternative kinds of intelligence. So too is why Pops, an erstwhile chess champion, hasn’t played for many years. We discover the reason is a personal one as we do that Clementine too has an image issue.
Friendship and love are key in this poignant, sometimes gently humorous book, as are the importance of social justice and what true goodness really means. Be prepared to lose your heart to Clementine as she bares her soul in her letters. The book ends on an optimistic note and a realisation that each of us must work out our own definition of goodness. Truly awesome writing.