________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 2 . . . . September 12, 2008

cover The Nine Lives of Travis Keating.

Jill MacLean.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008.
217 pp., pbk., $11.95.
ISBN 978-1-55455-104-0.

Subject Headings:
Feral cats-Fiction.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

***½ /4

Reviewed from Prepublication Copy.


Before I leave, I eat three caramel cookies, down a glass of Diet Coke, and rummage in my room for my fleece vest. Zipping it up, I go outside. The sea's throwing itself at the rocks like a kid having a tantrum. In case Rayleen's watching, I head left instead of right, pump up the hill, then turn around at the top and coast the whole way down, whizzing by our place and the six other houses.

I'm going to Gully Cove.

I don't believe in ghosts.


Despite containing 35 chapters, being over 200 pages in length and boasting a title that suggests a long book, Jill MacLean's novel for young readers, The Nine Lives of Travis Keating, is a fast and engaging read.

      Told in the first person from the perspective of 11-year-old, Travis Keating, MacLean's novel deals with important issues such as bullying, the death of a parent, isolation, and child abuse. Yet, MacLean handles these issues with skill and sensitivity, creating a thought-provoking, entertaining, and entirely satisfying book.

      After the death of Travis' mother, Travis and his father move from St. John's to the remote coastal town of Ratchet, NL, population 67. On the understanding that it will be just for a one-year "experiment," Travis agrees that his father might take a position as the community doctor. The move does not work out well for Travis, however, when he immediately becomes the target of local bully, Hud Quinn, and Quinn's sidekick, Marty Dunston.

      Hud's bullying adds to the sense of gloom with which Travis faces his new, motherless, world. "I hate talking about Mum. Dad's a doctor, but he didn't fix Mum when she got sick. He let her die instead. End of story."

      Travis eventually is able to establish a friendship with other local outcasts, Prinny and Hector. While Travis' mother is dead, Prinny's mother is a drunk and Hector's mother is smotheringly overprotective. Each situation presents its own challenges. "So what if she's a lousy mother? She's still my ma," Prinny observes. Travis, Prinny and Hector come together to feed and shelter the seven feral cats Travis discovers precariously clinging to life in abandoned fishing shacks.

      The short, fast-paced nature of each chapter helps to hold the reader's attention. MacLean's dialogue is strong, and her characters have a realistic depth and complexity that makes the reader care about each character. MacLean is a native Maritimer, and her understanding of, and affection for, Maritime communities is evident in her writing.

      Elementary school children and all cat lovers will enjoy reading about the new life that Travis Keating lives when he and his father move to Ratchet. MacLean is to be congratulated on a marvelous achievement.

Highly Recommended.

In Gregory Bryan's seventh life, he teaches children's literature at the University of Manitoba. He is not sure what the eighth and ninth lives will involve, but he figures the "not knowing" is part of the fun of having so many lives to live.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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