The Sign of the Cat

Book review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
The Sign of the Cat Book Poster Image
Engrossing fantasy has high-seas adventure, talking cats.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about resilience, honesty, intellectual curiosity, truth-seeking, loyalty.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Duncan is smart, kind, and loyal to his mother and has integrity. He's not always honest with her and sometimes sneaks out for cat council meetings and doesn't always tell her the complete truth. She's also dishonest with him out of a desire to protect him from real danger; she later apologizes. She asks him to make bad grades on purpose to hide his true identity. Other characters are simplistically good or evil but not always what they seem.

Violence

Description of father's death by stabbing, as well as description of a man being stabbed in the forehead. A crate of kittens crashes to the ground; one is said to be lying lifeless; a tiger is knocked unconscious with a brass bar; a boy jumps overboard and floats for a day in the sea; a boy nearly drowns; a boy is drugged and kidnapped twice; a painting is described with bodies and bloodshed.

Sex
Language

Name-calling: "scum," "scum-sucking," "stupid."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A boy is drugged with cherry juice.

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.

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What's the story?

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?

Book details

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