Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era

by Sterling North
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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 429

Sterling North’s memoir of a specific time in his life provides more than a glance back at history. Although historical details are present and shape many of the events, Rascal appeals to young readers primarily because of the youthful activities and independence the author describes in his account of that memorable year.

The “simpler era” that North recalls contains a childhood that allowed the pleasures of exploration and adventure. A trip with his father included camping without tents, sleeping in hammocks under the stars, seeing a bald eagle, and swimming in clear, cool lakes. Life at home consisted of late-night fishing trips with friends, entering the pie-eating contest at the fair, launching a homemade canoe, and bringing home a menagerie of pets.

The lack of parental supervision is another attraction of that memorable time. Young Sterling did not have to worry about arriving home too late. North explains, “No one was concerned about the hours I kept. I was a very competent eleven year old.” With his father frequently absent and his sisters checking on him only periodically, Sterling was free to make his own decisions. From bringing home a baby raccoon to building an eighteen-foot canoe in the living room, he exercised idyllic freedoms that would be the envy of any eleven-year-old.

With this youthful independence, Sterling also exhibited a notable and admirable sense of resourcefulness and responsibility. Bringing home a baby raccoon meant special feeding, constant care, and teaching it the ways of nature. Sterling demonstrated accountability for his actions by not only caring for the raccoon as a baby but also finding a way to make its confinement more bearable. Sterling’s ingenuity also carried over into his other tasks. He built his own canoe, tended a war garden, protected the Christmas tree from a curious raccoon, and stood up to the threats of a bully. These actions establish qualities of maturity that earn the respect of young readers.

The adventures, independence, and sense of responsibility demonstrated by North hold a great appeal for the book’s readers. His narrative does not contain actions that are sensational, but elements of realism that make his activities believable. Rascal maintains a positive tone by never dwelling on the hardships and misfortunes that occurred; rather, North finds the good in every incident without preaching and moral-izing. The book contains warm and pleasant observations of a unique year of North’s life. The “better era” of the book’s subtitle refers to a time when the simple pleasures of childhood could be enjoyed and hope was easy to find.

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