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The Sign of the Cat
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Sign of the Cat is an engrossing fantasy novel about a boy, Duncan, whose father has died, who can speak to and understand cats, and who searches for his true identity while doing his best to obey his mother's wishes to lie low and stay safe. Though the book involves kidnapping, drugging, and some near-death experiences, the focus is more on the adventure and suspense of unraveling Duncan's true identity through the help of a network of stray cats he befriends and the big lessons he learns on the way about secrets good and bad. An engaging read for middle schoolers who like a good yarn.
My 13 year old daughter was in tears and had to stop reading this book after reading the graphic descriptions of violence to kittens. A character smacks a bag of kittens until they stop moving. A room is discovered where kittens have been crushed and sent through a meat grinder. A character eats a pie made from kitten meat and garnished with ears and a tail. A recipe book is discovered with descriptions of gruesome kitten recipes. My daughter was mislead by the quote on the back of the book that said it would be enjoyed by cat lovers. Hardly.
This was an interesting book, and while it was overall innaproprate to read to my 3 year old, it was still interesting. Here is a small excerpt from the story itself.
“Well, do you think you’re all set?”
A few weeks ago, I saw an ad on craigslist to house sit for this couple that lived about an hour away from my house. They lived in the country, as did I. It did seem a little strange that their house was in the middle of nowhere and they wanted someone to watch their house.
I wasn’t going to question it though.
They were offering $150 to watch their house for ONE night. As a young adult who just moved away from my parents, this sounded amazing to me.
When I arrived at the house and talked to them, they seemed nice enough. They didn’t act strange or flustered, they just said they wanted to get out of the house for a night.
The man showed me around the large house, never telling me his name, leading me to the kitchen saying that I could help myself to any of its contents.
He also showed me to the room I was going to be sleeping in. The room contained a small TV and a very comfortable large bed.
I was actually looking forward to spending the night.
“Yes sir, I think we’re good to go.”
I watched his expression change to worry in an instant.
“Oh, son, there is one more thing,” he said.
“Yes, sir?” I asked.
He motioned me back down stairs and led me to a strange box shaped machine on a table in the living room.
There was only two buttons on the box; green, and red.
He pushed the green button, and in an instant, music started to play.
The music was just a five second loop of what sounded like basic stock music. It was just a few notes on guitar with some drums in the background.
“If this music stops playing, it means that he is close,” he said.
“Who is he?” I asked, very concerned.
His face changed back to a normal state, and then he smiled.
“Don't worry, you probably won’t have to worry about that. But in the event that it DOES stop, go up to your room, turn the TV on, it will be static. Once you have the TV on static, turn it up to max volume, and pop these in.”
He handed me two foam ear plugs.
“Once you have the ear plugs in and the TV on static, just close your eyes and ignore any urges you have to open your eyes or take out the ear plugs.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, starting to get worried.
“Calm down, I can almost guarantee it isn’t going to happen,” he said.
He then walked outside and to the car where his wife was waiting. They pulled out of the driveway and left.
I stood there stunned, and didn’t know what to think. Was the man playing a cruel joke on me?
For a second I considered leaving, but then I considered that maybe the man had some issues, and he was just imagining everything.
I started to walk upstairs to my room, listening to the dumb music loop the whole way.
For most of the the night, I just sat on my bed going through my phone.
I did get up at eight to make myself a sandwich in the kitchen. Although the sandwich wasn’t very good because the bread was stale.
I finally decided to go to bed at eleven, still hearing the faint sound of the music downstairs.
“Nothing to worry about,” I assured myself.
I shot up in an instant.
There was a strange sound coming from downstairs.
It took me a second before I realized it was the music, but the notes were randomly distorting and changing.
My heart skipped a beat.
I quickly checked to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, pinching myself and counting my fingers. I knew I definitely wasn’t dreaming.
I grabbed my phone and checked the time.
I sat listening to the distorted music for a solid three minutes, before the sound went completely dead.
I couldn’t manage a sound out of my mouth. I sat frozen before finally snapping out of it and grabbing the earplugs I put next to my phone, and popping them in.
I also grabbed the TV remote, and hit the power button.
Sure enough, when the TV came on, it was complete static. I turned the volume to 100, and covered my ears.
Even the ear plugs weren’t enough to soften the deafening sound.
I shut my eyes tight and hid under the covers.
It felt like only a few minutes.
In these few minutes, I felt a sharp pain on my left leg. I grabbed it and screamed with pain. At one point, I found myself about to pull out my ear plugs without even thinking about it. Horrified, I stopped myself.
I laid there, hearing whispers come and go around me. I couldn't make out what they were saying.
What felt like only a few more minutes went by.
After feeling something touch my feet, I let out a scream.
The covers were thrown up, and I started to scream even louder.
At that moment, my ear plugs were ripped out.
“Are you alright son?” I heard someone say.
I opened my eyes and looked up. The TV was off, and I saw the man standing next to me by the bed.
“You must have a bad dream,” he said with a smile.
Then, I got up, grabbed my phone, and charged downstairs and out of the house.
I noticed that the music was still playing as I ran out.
I got in my car, and started to pull out of the driveway, when I noticed the man standing in the doorway, holding money in his hand.
At that point, I didn’t care. I took off and didn’t look back.
Throughout that day, I started to accept that I must have just been dreaming the whole thing. I also should have taken the money that I earned and needed.
That night, when I got into the hot shower, I felt a burn on my left leg.
“Ouch,” I said, before looking down.
There was a large scratch down my left leg.
All Duncan wants is to be good at school and demonstrate his intelligence, but his mother insists he make bad grades every now and then and not draw attention to himself. As Duncan sets out to uncover why his mother wants to hide him and the identity of his real father, he relies on a secret special skill to gain knowledge and forge ahead: He can talk to and understand cats, who prove valuable in gathering intel along the way. As he pushes closer to uncovering the truth, he learns that secrets can be good or bad, that things are not always what they seem, and that it's important to get the whole story.
Is It Any Good?
In this fun fantasy, the writing moves along briskly, chapters have twists and cliffhangers, characters are complicated but relatable, and there are thorny questions to ponder as the plot unfolds. What does it mean to be honest? Is it OK to lie to protect our loved ones? Are we more than our reputations? Why do heroes and villains often seem interchangeable?
With a clever setup most kids won't be familiar with (a parent who wants her child to do poorly in school); the secret of Duncan's father's true identity -- and possibly his own; and the otherworld and language of cats, who make for more reliable companions and confidantes than one might have imagined, it all adds up to an engrossing read.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about talking animals. Why do you think they're so popular in films and books?
Can secrets be good? What's an example of a good secret vs. a bad one?
Have you ever had to play down your smarts? Why? What happened? When might this technique come in handy?