Review: Ben's parents are the best in their fields. His dad is a world-renowned, famous conservationist. His mom is one of the most recognized photographers in the world. Their preserve in California is their life's work, although their careers and their expertise frequently take them globetrotting--and since they need to be in Africa for a few weeks, Ben is in charge of the preserve for the first time. However, something's wrong. His parents' right-hand man is in the ICU after being run off the road. The neighbors, already not happy with the preserve, are getting meaner. And then, the unthinkable. Two of the preserve's lionesses, the two most like house cats, are found shot by a sniper. Ben's parents are missing, possibly attacked by poachers, and Ben is left with the impossible task of managing the preserve, winning over the town, and becoming a man in the next few days.
I remember reading this book as a kid, but remembered so little about it. I remember that a cheetah was one of the victims, and since then I have wanted a cheetah for a pet. (This is, however, not the purpose of the book.) I seem to remember liking it a bit more than I did this time around. Ben's struggle to grow up stems from wanting to make his parents proud, but is encumbered by his desire to simply be a cowboy.
The main conflict - desperately trying to find out who is poaching the preserve's cats - is still compelling. Taylor's ability to highlight Ben's feelings of abandonment, his fears of failure and hopes of success, pairs well with the overarching mystery that just deepens as the novel progresses. As a younger teen, my main takeaway was "Man, I want a cheetah as a pet!", but this time through, I could see the struggle of not only Ben (a chronic underachiever and a boy lacking the drive to motivate himself) but of his mother, who fears his complacency. I saw myself as a teen this time through, and appreciated the novel on a different level.
Is this one of my favorite books of the year? Nope. But it's one I wouldn't mind keeping in my back pocket for a few years when my oldest is ready for a good coming-of-age story.
Rating: Three stars
For the Sensitive Reader: There is animal violence, someone takes shots at Ben, there is a scene of underage drinking and marijuana use.