By Mike and Rachel Grinti
Published 2012 by Chicken House
Emma's sister is missing and her parents have spent all their money trying to find her. They've done everything they can - and now they're going to consult the crags. Her family has moved to a trailer park on the edge of the forest, where very few humans go. When Emma is approached by Jack, a clever and ruthless cat who assures Emma that he can help her find Helena, what choice does she have but to listen to him?
One of my coworkers received an ARC of this title and read it and loved it - she's been talking about it for months. So, I recently strong-armed her into loaning me her copy (she's very careful with her books - just like me!) so I could see what all her fuss was about. I have to start by saying, as I always do, that I'm not a huge fan of talking animal fantasy novels. So, I approached this with slight trepidation. However, it should also be said that I'm willing to read pretty much anything, just to give it a try.
I feel pretty ambivalent about this book overall - it had some interesting elements but it also had a lot of stuff that just didn't work for me. It's a short and quick read, but it felt incomplete and rushed - we don't really know how long Helena's been missing, or where anyone thinks she's gone, or even if they think she left of her own accord. We are just thrown into the story after Emma's parents have exhausted seemingly every avenue in the search for their older daughter.
Additionally, the characterization feels hasty - Emma reads, overall, as a pretty bland character and I had a difficult time sympathizing with her at any point in the story. Jack, the cat, reads like a typical smarmy sidekick who we are never really sure we should trust but we kinda just go along with anyway. Emma's parents are basically non-existent and I didn't really feel like Emma cared all that much about finding her sister except so that her parents would stop wasting their time (that's what it read as to me).
There is a lack of place in this novel - I had no idea where the story was supposed to be taking place. Yes, I get that it's a fantasy version of our world but where in our world? The authors kept making reference to Emma's Vietnamese heritage which at one point made me think the story was taking place in Vietnam - only to go on to state that her grandparents had fled the country with her parents during the war. I wish the Grintis had done something more with Emma's heritage - incorporated Vietnamese mythological creatures perhaps, something other than just mentioning that she was Vietnamese a number of times. I was particularly unimpressed with the ending - it felt even more hasty than the rest of the book.
Actually, when I look over my review, I guess I'm not so ambivalent - I don't have much to recommend for this novel, but I'm sure there are a number of avid animal fantasy readers who would enjoy its unique take on cat mythology.