Millhouse (2014), by Natale Ghent

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 19.5.

Ghent-MillhouseMillhouse tells the story of a naked guinea pig, caught in a life he did not choose, unappreciated by those around him, teased for being a misfit. Millhouse used to have a warm and welcoming home with a celebrated actor, but after Sir Roderick’s death, he ended up in a dusty, dreary pet shop. He yearned to return to his old life, to satisfy his thespian aspirations, to be appreciated again. The premise seems promising to those who appreciate stories of anthropomorphized animals, and can sympathize with Millhouse’s situation. Millhouse is an interesting character, and his over-dramatizing of his life is highly entertaining and appropriate to his self-conception as an actor. He is certainly the strongest character in the story; the other characters (even the assortment of animals in the shop) are similarly hyperbolic, and thus overtly stereotypic. There are the other, beautiful guinea pigs who deride Millhouse for his appearance, the crafty ferret who considers him (but not apparently the other animals) as a potential meal, the constantly reproduced baby wild mice who come to listen to Millhouse perform Shakespeare. The usual antics occur, with the escape-artist ferret attacking Millhouse, with Millhouse becoming depressed by the insinuation that the is intended only for scientific experiments, by Millhouse’s attempted escape to see Sir Peter Ustinov perform, and the final heart-warming conclusion that finally places him is a home. One problem I see is that Millhouse (like the ferret, but not the other animals) can easily escape his cage, yet doesn’t think to leave until the end. Another troubling element is that Millhouse is the only character with a name, rather like Franklin in the children’s cartoon (equally problematic in terms of children’s ability to identify with any of the supporting cast). Overall, the characters and story seem to limp along, either predictably or irrelevantly.

By far the best aspect of Millhouse is the author’s own illustrations, which in and of themselves justify the creation of a story to accompany them. Millhouse’s dramatic expressions, the ferret’s malicious sneers, the wild mouse Sargent’s military nobility, the adorable mice babies… Perhaps Natale Ghent’s unquestionable artistic ability would be better used in producing graphic novels for young readers; in Millhouse, she has created an almost-sufficient story in just the illustrations.

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