The Last Free Cat by Jon Blake. Published by Albert Whitman & Company
The Last Free cat is one of those books that once you start, you can’t put it down. The story begins with a mother and her teen daughter, Jade, arguing over a cat that Jade found in their back yard. Seems innocent enough, right? After all, how many parents around the world have at one time argued with their child over adding a pet to the family? But this is where the “normal” part of the story ends and the book dives head-first into a bizarre world where cats are no longer a cute & cuddly house pet, but instead are desired by many but only owned by the very wealthy or are feared as vectors of the deadly cat-flu. Because Jade and her mom are not wealthy, they are suddenly targets of everyone: the government who regulates cat ownership and their neighbors and friends who are terrified of contracting cat-flu. Suddenly, mom and daughter find themselves in hiding in their own home. They know that one wrong move and their house will be invaded by Comprot, short for “Community Protection”. Because, you see, in Jades world, owning a cat is very, very expensive. And illegal, you can count on 10 years in prison for owning a non-registered cat. And no-one questions this, it’s just the way it is. The government has convinced its people that an unregistered cat will be diseased and give anyone who is near one the deadly cat-flu. And if you, like Jade, come across a cat with no collar and decide to keep it, your life suddenly becomes very, very difficult.
Your story might go something like this: First, you meet a new friend, a homeless kid named Kris that you don’t particularly like, but your mom seems to like him, so the next thing you know, he has a key to your house. “For emergencies” you mom tells you. You also have a a new cat, whom you name Feela and you have to trust that Kris is not going to turn you in. And even more annoying, Feela seems to be totally at ease with Kris when it took you weeks of hard work just to get her to sit on your lap. Then an unexpected tragedy hit and the next place you find yourself is on the run. With a cat….and Kris.
There are tons of unexpected situations in this book, which made me enjoy it even more. The ending was good, it tied things up without being too neat and perfect, maybe even leaving room for a sequel. The characters in the book all have their own distinct personalities without sounding fake or “too much”. And as you start on the journey with this little group, you’ll start to notice that while it seems like everything is normal, something feels a little “off”. First the strange cat law. Then the odd types of transportation, some of it familiar, some of it definitely not. And gadgets that are far from what we’re used to but can imagine being commonplace in the future.
The author makes it work. He really works hard at creating believable dialogue between Jane and Kris and then, later, Amelie and Raff. He writes in plenty of breathless adventurous, that aren’t too far-fetched to believe, these kids are pretty resourceful. And they are determined to do what they feel is right, even if it means they work outside of the law enforcement who are on their tail for the second half of the book.
I think this is a story about a post-apocalyptic, dystopian future, one I hope I never have to live in. It’s about breaking rules when someone (or something) needs help, no matter what sacrifice you have to make, It’s about being rebellious to get what you think is right. It’s about discovering the truth for yourself, rather than having the government tell you what you should be doing/thinking/living, etc. About how, if you have enough people who are strong in their beliefs and willing to carry them out, that good things can happen.
This book falls into the Young Adult category. As a discerning parent, I would be comfortable recommending it to children ages 11 and up. I have two sons who are young teens and they liked it very much and asked me to find more books by this author.
To find more of this outstanding author’s work, check out Jon Blake on Goodreads. To find more exciting books published by Albert Whitman & Company, follow this link.