This Journal Belongs to RatchetThis Journal Belongs to Ratchet. By Nancy J. Cavanaugh. Sourcebooks, 2013. (2016 Caudill Nominee)

Rachel Vance’s mechanic father calls her “Ratchet” because she is so helpful. Ratchet’s father is an avid environmentalist that attends every town meeting and unhelpfully calls people idiots who don’t care about the Earth. Her dad is very smart and could probably make changes to the way the town of Blainesfield does things, but his eccentric and aggressive way of going about things ruin his cause. Ratchet is embarrassed. She wants a normal day, a normal life, and to be more like her mom. But that’s the problem. The town thinks her dad is crazy. She is homeschooled and has no friends. And she knows more about how to take apart and put back together a car engine than about her deceased mother’s life.

But, Ratchet gets a new journal and finds the mysterious box that travels to all of their fix-up houses but is never opened. Her new goal is to change her life by getting fashion sense, finding friends, and investigating anything to do with her mom. The journal is our novel then. The pages are lined, the font is designed to look like handwriting, and there is a homeschool writing exercise taped at the top of each entry. This is a cute set up, however, the writing assignments often don’t reflect what students are usually asked to write about or are too vague (although maybe Ratchet’s dad doesn’t know what to assign). Ratchet’s writing is sweet and resembles tween writing, but is sometimes too transparent.

The characters are great though. You can feel Ratchet’s embarrassment about her situation and anger towards her father for always being so stubborn and secretive about her mom. You can feel the tension between her and her father; her and her new friend/crush Hunter; and her and her arch nemesis Evan; etc… Ratchet changes from being very self-conscious and wanting what she doesn’t have to really appreciating who she is because of her dad and seeing that others appreciate her as she already is. It’s a tale of self-acceptance when just about everything about your life is weird. The plot that conveys this progress, the struggle over Moss Tree Park being slowly turned into a strip mall, is a great vehicle for viewing the changes in Ratchet. This book is great for budding hippies, journal keepers, homeschoolers, and just about any tween that feels the self-consciousness of being a teen and thinking her family is embarrassing and crazy.

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The best part about reading this book (other than the fact that my name is Rachel) is that after reading, I figured I could change my own tires. I needed to switch from my snow tires back to regular. I didn’t even realize I was holding a ratchet until my boyfriend called it a ratchet. And then I got really excited and made him take terrible photos (see below).

And I learned an important lesson: take the lug nuts off before jacking up the car or the wheel will spin like crazy. Overall, it wasn’t too difficult and took about 45 minutes with all my theatrics and book photo shoot.

Read more 2016 Caudill reviews.