REVIEW: Always, Clementine by Carlie Sorosiak
From the author of I, Cosmo comes a humor-filled, heart-tugging tale of a genius mouse, secretly freed from a lab, who’s in search of a real home—and a way to free her old friends.
Clementine is different from other mice: she can calculate the speed of light and she dreams in Latin. The scientists say she’s a genius and put her through test after test. Clementine is proud of being a good lab mouse, but she’s lonely. Her only snatches of friendship occur during her late-night visits with a chimpanzee named Rosie. When a compassionate lab technician frees Clementine, the mouse discovers an outside world full of wonders: Brussels sprouts, games of speed chess, television fame, and a chance for a real home. But for Clementine, it’s not enough to be free when she knows that Rosie and the other mice are not. This tender, lively adventure story, narrated in letters from a mouse to a chimpanzee, shows us that goodness is something we have to define for ourselves—and that courage and wisdom aren’t proportionate to size.
Dear Ms. Sorosiak,
Last year “Leonard (My Life as a Cat)” was one of my favorite books. I couldn’t wait to see what you’d come up with next. Aha, it’s Clementine the lab mouse who has a thing or two to say about labs, best friends, and making your own choices in life.
I’ll be frank and admit that this book started off a little bit more slowly for me. I had to work through the first 35 pages to stay engaged which surprised me but there it is. Yet once Clementine and her mouse partner in escaping, Hamlet, made it to the house of kind people (the sort who don’t pick mice up by their tails), things began to improve. Was the scenario the perfect one needed to try and save these two mice from being returned to the testing lab? Yeah, it was but it was also the type of home that I’d immediately feel comfortable and accepted in were I to wind up there and the two people were the ones who’d make sure I felt at ease.
Gus and his Pop were amazed at the note that came with Clementine and Hamlet to “save them.” And the means they decided to try was genius. The cover ought to give that away. And if I’m going to fall hook, line, and sinker into believing that a space alien in the form of a cat could arrive on Earth, then why not believe that an experiment in a lab to breed genetically superior and brilliant mice could happen, too. Or that one of these mice, Clementine, could immediately take to and begin to master the insanely difficult game of chess. Like in “Leonard” this book gets a gimme from me.
The story is told in first person (first murine) POV from Clementine who is “writing” (actually thinking and remembering) letters to her best friend in the lab, a chimpanzee named Rosie. Clementine is brilliant but also kind. She loves brussel sprouts but learns (and “tells” Rosie) that you should never turn down asparagus and that the world is full of color, aromas, and stars. Chess is like a maze to her (something she’s very good at though she finally begins to realize why Hamlet has been so [deliberately] bad at them) so she immediately takes to it. Simultaneous chess against several opponents fires her brain to be even better and faster.
But lurking in the background is what I’ve come to expect from your books – a challenge on a deadline. Clementine, Gus, Pops, and some of their friends are gambling on Clementine’s public display of chess brilliance to sway opinions about her fate and that of the others still in the lab. Will it work? Will it be allowed to work? The scene of Clementine risking it all, making her choice to not go down without a fight is both hilarious and heart pounding. I probably won’t look at stacks of bananas, potatoes, or the cereal aisle the same way again. Then I read, with my heart in my throat, her decision (and Hamlet’s) for their friends. Would it work? I held my breath to see.
The finale is, okay I’ll be honest again, both incredibly amazing and probably not that likely to actually occur IRL but dang if it didn’t move me. Life in general lately sucks a few times a day (I really need to stop reading most of the news) and I needed this. It lifted me up, made me smile, and made me happy. And I think Clementine has it in her to become a Grand Champion – or not if she wants to devote more time to trying various tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, and gardening. And the reunion at the end? Totally worth reading the book to see. B+