Theodore Taylor,
(Harcourt, 1989; 2007)

Ben Jepson, nearly 15 years old, is taking care of his parents' wild game preserve while they travel to Africa after the man who was supposed to be running the preserve is hospitalized after a car wreck. Ben is managing just fine until, over the course of three nights, someone releases and shoots some of the big cats. On the fourth night, Ben tries to watch for the killer and is shot at, although he is not injured.

The novel is set in the 1980s, so Ben does not have the communication resources to contact his parents. Communication with them at best is spotty, leaving Ben to deal with the matter on his own, assisted by the local sheriff and one of the hands at the preserve.

A subtheme of the novel is Ben's tense relationship with his mother. She considers him a slacker who doesn't live up to his potential, and Ben desperately wants to prove her wrong. He pursues the sniper even though he's scared to pieces, and when he does figure out who the mysterious sniper is, he is completely surprised.

This is an exceptionally readable book, and except for the lack of more advanced technology, the novel does not seem dated. Ben is an engaging character who garners the reader's sympathy only immediately, and how cool is it when your housecat is a cheetah? Try this one out on a reluctant reader.

review by
Donna Scanlon

25 July 2009

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