Intelligence is a strange thing. No one can measure it, no one can make it, no one can see it—yet we all prize it. But intelligence is difficult to define. After all, how do you tell if you are intelligent? Does intelligence mean that you are academically skilled, or does it mean that you know how to navigate the ways of the world? Or perhaps there are different types of intelligence—academic knowledge, and something else entirely: a sort of cunning that few have. A certain Mister Dodger, even though he is a fictional character, is a perfect example of that elusive, cunning kind of intelligence.
The novel Dodger is by Sir Terry Pratchett (an author who received knighthood because of his services to literature), the acclaimed writer of the Discworld series. The main character, Dodger, is a seventeen-year-old street urchin who lives in early Victorian London. When a mysterious young woman tumbles out of a street carriage one night, Dodger rushes to defend her from her pursuers. Of course, he doesn’t know who she is, but she looks important—he might be able to get some money out of returning her. But what seemed like easy money becomes a complex adventure, which might just change Dodger forever.
Dodger is an urchin, more specifically a tosher: someone who looks for valuables in the sewers. As you can imagine, this means that Dodger is generally smelly and wet. He doesn’t mind. Dodger is actually quite content with his life. He is not a thief (or so he says) but he does not work, not really. On good days he will make more than a chimney sweep would in one day! But after his run-in with the golden-haired young woman, Dodger begins to think of life quite differently.
In his adventures with the young woman, Dodger meets Mister Charlie Dickens. Mister Charlie has a rather annoying habit of scribbling everything down, but Dodger knows that he is a unique man—one of those people you can’t trick or steal from. Charlie is intelligent, in both the academic and the street sense, and that makes him exceptional. Mister Charlie would be a dangerous enemy but becomes a valuable ally because he knows how people in certain situations think.
Dodger is a funny, surprising book with lovable (if smelly) characters. But underneath the action and puns is a deep reflection of the world itself, and all the intelligent people who inhabit it.
Middle-grade historical fiction, ages 12–14.
You can buy this book here.