When 11-year old Zoë’s mother passes away, she is taken in by her uncle, Dr. Henry Royster. Both are accustomed to being on their own – Zoë had to take care of herself because of her mom’s mental illness and poor choices, and Henry lost wife #3 and became an artist (he makes large metal sculptures) – and both are rather independent and stubborn. Like the feral cat, Mr. C’mere, that Zoë attempts to befriend, she’s a little wild and slow to trust. When Henry forces Zoë to attend school (5th grade, so she can be with her ‘peers’ and where she’s terribly, terribly bored) for the first time in her life, Zoë takes to keeping a journal – one of the assignments her sympathetic teacher gives her. She begins writing her memoir, and is furious when her classmate Hargrove steals it and uses it to find her secret cabin in the woods. Zoë has another secret, too, about the white deer (Sister) and its human shadow, Wil. When Hargrove is injured and Wil is suspected, Zoë finally has to decide whether or not to confide in Henry and the other people who she is just coming to know and love. Although Zoë is just a kid, her uncle treats her with respect and gives her a lot of leeway and lenience – he seems to understand that she needs to do things her own way, and that that way may not necessarily be wrong. It’s a delicate balancing act, because he wants to protect her and keep her safe from harm, but safety isn’t always Zoë’s priority. Zoë’s experiences with her mother have made her older and wiser beyond her years, but they’ve also made her cautious about opening up to and loving other people. She has a lot of conflicted feelings, too, which she’s working through on her own. Readers who get inside her head will fall in love with this smart, tough little girl. An extremely satisfying read with excellent, well-developed characters. It’s interesting to note that Clay Carmichael got the idea for this story from a tom cat she gentled and tamed. There are chapters from the cat’s point of view interspersed with Zoë’s observations/memoir.
* * * * Stars (Great) Reviewed by Karin Thogersen, Young Adult Librarian