In Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era, Sterling North created a story of both innocence and emerging maturity by recalling a year of his life as a young boy. The book details the lively adventures of an eleven-year-old Sterling and his pet raccoon, Rascal, during the last year of World War I. It was a simple time, but it was also a time of crisis in American life. Together, Rascal and Sterling enjoyed many pleasant adventures as Sterling faced the difficult task of growing up. North’s account of this era is divided into chapters that detail the months of the year that he and his pet spent together. Each chapter recollects the specific and important highlights of their lives as well as significant events in history.
The author’s memories of this time are both pleasant and thoughtful. Beginning with the simple excursion of two friends fishing on a May evening that led to the capture of a baby raccoon, they follow a year of new responsibility and maturity. The book chronicles the relationship that grew between boy and pet, the wonders of exploring and discovering, and the heartbreak of decisions and separation.
Rascal becomes a narrative account of the people and events that shaped that memorable year of North’s life. He gives attention to both the local and national events of the time. Summer vacation, the start of school, and the Irish Picnic and Horse Fair are aligned with the worries and casualties of war, the influenza epidemic, Armistice Day, and the eventual end of the war. Along with the joys and freedoms of childhood, the difficulties of growing up are remembered. A frequently absent father and a recently deceased mother cause Sterling to contemplate the questions of life alone. He must collar and ultimately cage Rascal by himself. As the year closes, Sterling realizes that he must face the future and deal with changes that are inevitable. Rascal chooses to return to nature, and Sterling emerges from their association resourceful and capable of moving into adulthood.