A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
What's the story?
In a slightly future world where pollution and asthma are rampant and cars are banned, Charlie's scientist parents are kidnapped. Pursued by their thuggish kidnapper, Rafi, and unwittingly carrying the formula for which they were taken, Charlie sets out to rescue them. Though his chances seem remote, he has one thing working in his favor: he can talk with cats, and cats all over the world, who know more about his parents than he does, are motivated to help him out.
He hooks up with a floating circus headed to France, where the cats say his parents have been taken, and meets a family of lions longing for escape. While working as the liontamer's helper he plots a way to arrange the lions' return to Africa while following his parents, who are now headed to Venice. But Rafi is closing in.
Is it any good?
It's a brilliant premise that should have worked. You have a boy who can talk to cats (and lions!), a floating circus and later the Orient Express for settings, a child out to rescue both lions and his parents, a touch of fantasy, and an adventure spanning the width of Europe. It does eventually start to work, but only about three-quarters of the way through.
The whole thing has the pacing of a fly in honey -- lots of buzzing, but not getting much of anywhere. It might have worked if Charlie had some personality or voice or humor, but he's pretty much a cipher -- Our Hero Who Speaks to Cats. Those children who make it to the end will be rewarded by a very exciting last section and a cliffhanger ending, and will want the sequel immediately. But many kids won't get that far.