Dial Books, 2003
Charlie Ashanti comes home one day to find his parents gone and Rafi Sadler, an older, suave teen, armed with explanations. But things feel off, and Charlie's suspicions are only confirmed when the neighbourhood cats tell him what they've seen. So Charlie sneaks off and promptly runs away with a circus ship, where he makes friends with the lions aboard the circus. Soon he's got two missions on his hands: rescue his parents, and return the lions to their home. In Essouira, Africa. Thank goodness Charlie speaks Cat.The cover:
All that gold is certainly eye-catching, and it does represent a good portion of the book. But it kind of feels like the designers got too lazy to add other elements to the cover and just slapped a photo, text and snazzy shimmer paper on and called it a day.
I'm going to start off with a Harry Potter comparison: remember that very first line of The Philosopher's Stone? The voice jumped out at you; it was the voice of a narrator who knew what an epic tale she was spinning. Same goes for Lion Boy. With the most perfect chapter on possible, the author has got our protag, his parents, his background and his problem established. The very last line is the jewel in the crown. No seriously.
We slip easily into Charlie's viewpoint. His delight over being treated as a grown-up make him real; his sense of justice and views on ethnicity (especially considering his "brown" skin colour) make him someone to cheer for. Though his multilingualism is a little difficult to believe (Charlie speaks English, French and Twi fluently, along with Latin and Italian), you can't help admiring the loyalty and stubborness he maintains even when fearing for his life.
Action is aplenty, which makes this perfect for reluctant readers. After all, who's never dreamed of joining the circus, or uncovering a company conspiracy? And don't forget the lions, who're exciting enough even if you didn't dream of joining the circus or uncovering a conspiracy. Their contrasting personalities -- at once cheery friends and powerful predators -- establish them as real characters, and the countless chases keeps the storyline on its toes.
An intriguing look at a futuristic world is presented: there are very few cars, and asthma seems to be the main sickness. There are hints of a Corporacy capitalizing on this, and a few science-y aspects are thrown in for good measure. The world development has definite potential, and hopefully future installments will provide a more in-depth look.
WIth unique characters, a speed-of-sound plot and cat-speaking, Lion Boy can be enjoyed by anyone. Oh! And it's middle-grade. Enjoy by anyone + middle-grade = a win combo. :D
Rating: 4.5 out of 5