________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 5. . . .October 24, 2008



Bev Cooke.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2008.
197 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-55143-747-7.

Subject Heading:
Feral cats-Juvenile fiction.
Gangs-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.

Review by Brianne Grant.

**½ /4



Little Cat creeps out of her hidey-hole. She wants Candlewax. She is still shaken by the place above the stairs, and if he comes, he will soothe her with his talk. Even though the platform is her place she still hasn't the courage to come past the barrier. It is almost the end of the grumpy-time, so she will wait and watch from here until the crowds are gone. Then she will look for Candlewax or Katherine.

The rush and bustle of the crowds is dying off when Katherine storms off the train. She comes straight to the rotten-smell box and puts the bowl and the crunchies down, but instead of getting out her box that flashes, she moves to sit back near Candlewax's spot.

"You're lucky you're all alone, cat" she says. Her voice is grumpy as the two-legs who have just left the station, full of growls and flat, hard tones. "At least, lucky you don't have a mother. Bloody miserable - " Her hands wave up in the air and her breath blows out in a gust.


Little Cat is terrified of two-legs and the unpredictably violent nature of life in the subway, but she comes to find companionship with Candlewax, a street kid, and Katherine, a girl from "Crew territory" on the other side of town. Bev Cooke writes Feral through the eyes of Little Cat, which presents a very unique perspective for young readers. Feral is written with simple sentence structure and word choice, but the novel includes mature content relating to drug usage and gang activity.

     Candlewax gains Little Cat's trust by feeding her and speaking to her in a soothing voice. She can sense that he is inherently good. However, as a street kid who escaped a life with dangerous subway tunnel dwellers, Candlewax longs to be included in the gang life that both divides the city and thrives in the subway. As the novel progresses, he comes to see the violence of gang life and the manipulative tendencies of Big, the gang leader. Candlewax slowly begins to question the appeal and security that he thought being in the gang could offer. Katherine, on the other hand, comes from the other side of town and has plans to capture Little Cat, take her home and de-claw, clean and domesticate her.

     The two human characters are united by a love of Little Cat, and, at times, it seems as though a relationship may develop between Katherine and Candlewax, but it does not. Seeing the difficult circumstances that Candlewax faces as a homeless person and learning of gang life through her boyfriend does not change Katherine. Her character does not develop or make any kind of journey through the course of the novel. Candlewax also changes very little, although, he does come to see the folly of gang life. In the end, he abandons his initial desire to join the gang but chooses to begin a new life with a stolen bag of marijuana. Morally and ethically, Candlewax remains the same. Little Cat loses her fear of the world and learns to trust in those who help her. With the help of Candlewax, she is able to leave her "hidey-hole" and walk into the light outside of the subway.

     Although the significance of Little Cat's journey is seen through her relationship to Candlewax and Katherine, Feral also reveals seedy underground gang violence in the city. The Crew and the Nightside are rival gangs that have sporadic and retaliatory fights. Candlewax and Katherine are both on the outside and yet affiliated to the gangs. The gang members are stock characters, and their situation is reminiscent of old-school West side versus East side gang warfare. Katherine breaks the expectations of a Crew member's girlfriend by going to Nightside territory to see Little Cat. Candlewax faces his fears of the subway world to both try to get in and then out of the Nightside gang. Little Cat mirrors their journeys by overcoming her own fears, fighting rats, dogs, and even saving Candlewax in an underground gang and subway dweller fight.

     Although gang life is a relevant topic for teenagers today, the simplification of it in Feral ignores important aspects of gang life and whitewashes the many factors of youth involvement in gangs as well as youth homelessness. Children's and young adult literature need not have a didactic or moral lesson for readers; however, I have concerns about glorifying Candlewax and his decision to start a new life with a stolen bag of weed. While I commend the efforts of Cooke to bring a new perspective in looking at the more gritty elements of society, the novel did not provide the complication, depth, or insight that I would expect in a youth novel.


Brianne Grant is a student in the Master of Arts in Children's Literature at the University of British Columbia, and Executive Councillor-West for IBBY Canada.

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

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