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This is another re-read after many years, and another one which holds up. I'm not surprised that I loved it as a kid, nor that I love it now, as it has so many elements that I like: a detailed and atmospheric setting, heroism and tragedy, science fiction, society-building, an ordinary heroine discovering her own courage... and rats.

Recently-widowed field mouse Mrs. Frisby is raising her children in an abandoned cinder block in a farmer's garden. Through a sequence of events too complicated to detail, she ends up having to ask the mysterious rats living under the rose bush for help, and finds that they are escaped experimental super-intelligent lab rats building a secret rat society... and that not only is she connected to them in a way she didn't know about, but she is just as essential to their survival as they are to her son's.

A great concept beautifully executed, complete with an unusual structure in which the story of the rats' origin takes up about a third of the story. There's some weird unexamined sexism (the experimental rats are first stated to include some females, but the only superintelligent rats we ever meet are males) but Mrs. Frisby is a good example of a US-traditionally feminine character (a mom) who is quite genuinely heroic. I liked her, I liked the melancholy touches and the unknown hero of the climax, the rats' Plan is more pragmatic and less knee-jerk Luddite than I had recalled, and the rodent-eye-view is beautifully done.

There are sequels by O'Brien's daughter; I never read them because I like preserving the ambiguity of the ending.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh
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