You know how it is when you read a great book but it has a cover that just isn’t going to catch anyone’s eye? Yeah, that’s how I felt about the original cover for The Nine Lives of Travis Keating. But with the release of the sequel, The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy, Travis has a new cover to match!
One year. Three hundred and sixty five days. That’s how long Travis has to wait to get out of the small Newfoundland town of Ratchet and back to St John’s. His dad has accepted a one-year contract as a community doctor after Travis’s mom’s death, and is hoping that the change will help both of them deal with their grief. But Travis manages to get on the bad side of Hud, the school bully on his frist day of school, and now no-one wants to talk to him. He misses his hockey team. And of course, he misses his mom, and blames his dad for not being able to cure her.
But Travis discovers that there’s something he can do in Ratchet–when he finds a group of feral cats living in the abandoned fishing shacks down by the docks, he’s determined to feed them and tame them. His rescue mission draws in two other kids from school, quiet Hector, who doesn’t say much but loves to build things, and Prinny Murphy, who is routinely mocked at school for her greasy hair and grubby clothes, but is struggling to hold her own family together and deal with her alcoholic mother. (Prinny’s story is told in the sequel.) The three of them have to save the cats from the weather, the price of cat-food, wild dogs… and Hud.
First off, there’s nothing like a good animal story to appeal to a wide range of kids. It’s easy to relate to Travis’s need to protect the cats, and it’s also a realistic look at a potentially grim situation. Travis is also a very real, likeable kid who has a lot to deal with. All of the characters are believably complex, from Prinny or Travis’s dad, to Hud, may be a bully but doesn’t have the world’s greatest role models at home. With all this going on, you’d think that we’d be in problem novel territory, but it’s all just part of the deeper motivations that makes everyone who they are, and takes this book from good to great. This was a surprisingly fast read, probably because the story moves along quickly and I found it hard to put down! This is a good pick for anyone in grades four to seven who likes animals and a story with some underlying serious stuff. I also think it would be a great book to share as a readaloud at home or in the classroom.
Random fact: Jill Maclean wrote the story for her grandson Stuart–but not the Stuart Maclean of Vinyl Cafe fame, despite a quick double-take on my part!