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Readers Advisory: The Zoo at the Edge of the World by Eric Kahn Gale

Balzer + Bray, $16.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 0062125168, August 2014

Marlin is not slow, or mute; what he is is a stutterer, and that makes it impossible for him to convince people otherwise. What he is also is a Rackham: the youngest son of the world-famous explorer Roland Rackham, who is the owner and proprietor of the Zoo at the Edge of the World, a resort where the well-to-do from all over the world can come to experience the last bit of the wild left in the world at the end of the nineteenth century. In order to impress a powerful duke who comes to visit the zoo, Marlin’s father ventures into the jungle and brings back a mysterious black jaguar, now the only one in captivity. Everyone is terrified of the jaguar, including Marlin—until one night, when the jaguar confers upon him a powerful gift. Soon Marlin finds himself with a difficult choice to make and, finally, something to say. If only he can figure out how to say it.

The Zoo at the Edge of the World is simply amazing. Fun, creative, thrilling, suspenseful, moral, and imaginative kind of amazing, plus talking jaguar! And many other talking animals, but the jaguar is the best one!

Marlin cannot speak easily to other people due to an exceptionally severe stutter. He can speak with perfect clarity to animals when no people are around, but since they don’t understand him either, Marlin’s social isolation is nearly complete until his father brings home a captured jaguar that gifts–or curses–Marlin with the ability to speak and understand the languages of all animals. After the shock wears off, Marlin relishes his new ability. He can have conversations at last, and his ability to speak and reason with the animals in the zoo lets him understand and often solve their problems. His sudden ease at getting the animals to do his will moves him to the head of the favorite son line, ahead of his brother Tim. Their father has always encouraged the boys to compete for his favor, so their brotherly relationship isn’t strong.

However, his ability turns out to cause more trouble than it solves. Gale doesn’t anthropomorphize the animals. Marlin can speak with them, but he cannot often reason with them because they act on instinct and on social customs that are unlike our own. He makes enemies, and he’s also forced to confront some inhumane conditions the animals suffer. Also, the allegedly man-eating jaguar claims he’s never eaten a man in his life, and if that’s the case, Marlin has to wonder who killed the zoo employee whose death set the jaguar’s capture in motion. Ultimately, he has to make a choice: civilization or the jungle.

Gale cleverly takes on imperialism without preaching via a roller coaster ride that’s going to win fans everywhere. Although many of us lament the overabundance of series in the market these days, I for one dearly hope for a sequel.

Recommend to: Action and adventure fans

To buy or not to buy: First purchase!

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