Review: The Sign of the Cat by Lynne Jonell

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Hardcover, 368 pages
Published June 16th 2015 by Henry Holt and Co.
Source: Raincoast Books

The Sign of the Cat focuses on Duncan who is super-smart and super-athletic, not that any of these qualities do him any good as his mother refuses to allow him to fully exert his potential and show everyone what he’s made of. Instead Duncan is supposed to repress his talents and try to live a mediocre life lest he garner the attention of the wrong sort of people. Not that he knows this–as far as Duncan is concerned, his mother is behaving oddly, much more oddly than other adults who do make occasional sense. Duncan’s closest friend is his cat, Grizel, who has taught him how to speak Cat. Their conversations usually revolve around the subject of food which is not at all in plentiful supply in Duncan’s household.

Anyway, as it so happens, Duncan, tired of being oppressed by his mother, decides to score really high in his exams. And yes, as his mother was so afraid, this does indirectly bring him to the attention of precisely the person she didn’t want him to be noticed by. Things happen and Duncan finds himself kidnapped and on a ship with a kitten as his lone companion. The adults around him are all sinister especially where kittens are concerned; kittens have a way of disappearing whenever this ship is in harbour. Duncan has to find a way to extricate himself from this sticky situation and right several injustices so he can take his rightful place…er, rightfully.

So I enjoyed The Sign of the Cat and if you are a cat person like me, you are bound to enjoy it too if only for the not-so-novel aspect of talking cats. I don’t care how many times talking cats has been done in literature, it remains one of my favourite tropes. Give me the talking cats! I liked Duncan quite a bit and felt his frustration keenly because I kept on thinking that if only his mother had not thought him immature (despite vast evidence to the contrary) and told him what she was afraid of and why he should be circumspect in…everything, the story would have been quite different. To once read a book where adults treat children like they’re smart little individuals and not unable to grasp life will be a pleasure. Let it happen soon, please.

I love the action in the book; things are always happening and often at a quick pace. The princess is a feisty character who has elements of vulnerability that make her a sympathetic side character. But my favourite character was Fia, the kitten who starts the book knowing and being able to do very little. As the story progresses, she and Duncan both get into trouble, get out of trouble and learn lots while they’re at it. And of course I can’t not mention Brig, the tiger, who reminds me of a rather crusty knight who still operates under the chivalric code.

The book is ideal for middlegraders looking for adventure and thrill in their stories. The Sign of the Cat has elements that will appeal to all genders; it discusses friendship, courage, and will function well as an introduction to the fantasy genre. Recommended.