Reviews

Jill Murphy’s review from Bookbag:

Jade lives in a recognisable but not particularly pleasant Britain of the near future. Huge corporations are running the show and the population lives in ignorance now the internet too has been largely taken over by big business. Only criminals and political extremists look at the freeweb now it’s illegal. A purported cat flu epidemic has effectively privatised cats. Breeding is strictly controlled by the Viafara Corporation and cats cost upwards of two million euros – only the rich can afford them. Any cats not bred in this way are potential disease carriers and are put down.

So when Jade finds Feela in her garden and takes in the beautiful cat, she and her mother are taking a huge risk. Comprot troops soon raid the house, looking for the illegal animal, and Jade’s mother’s failing heart finally gives out. Left alone and determined to protect Feela, Jade has no choice but to go on the run, and no one to turn to except the school misfit Kris Delaney. And so they try to reach Ireland, where a recent revolution has overthrown the corporations, pursued by vicious government agents.

Jon Blake has painted an ominously credible future Britain in this very satisfying novel. It’s familiar, and so its subtle differences don’t need pages and pages of exposition, but they are sinister and very frightening subtle differences. It’s a chilling picture of just how near authoritarianism stands and just how ignorant of the danger we are now, today, not how ignorant we might become. After all, if we can go to war and kill a million people on the outright lie about weapons of mass destruction, and if news reports can frenzy for days on one ill bird, how unlikely is it that cats could be privatised by a manufactured scare about cat flu? It’s not a quantum leap in logic or possibility, is it?

The main narrative is the chase, as Jade and Kris flee the armed Comprot operatives, and it’s as pacy and tense and action-packed as any adrenalin-junky reader could wish for. There are some heart-stopping moments and the two central characters are forced to show great courage. But they’re also forced to reassess their thoughts, feelings and values – Jade must lose the scales on her eyes and face the truth about the society she lives in, while Kris must learn to accept that while you can distrust governments and corporations, life is very little without trusting relationships with fellow human beings.

Inevitably, thrown together as they are, the two mismatched teenagers find out they’re a match after all. The romance is rather touching actually, and not in the least bit overdone or saccharine. Kris and Jade find love by sparring with one another and sharing danger, not by mooning and spooning. And it never gets in the way of the story. Both of them are fully-fleshed and interesting people, both with flaws and both with considerable depth of character. I was really rooting for them, and for Feela the cat too, of course.

I’ve read several very good chase novels for teenagers lately, but I think this one is my favourite. The writing is top notch and it has something for everyone. Take it as my tip for a major award.

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Sam North’s review from Hackwriters:

It’s future without cats – most are dead of the deadly HN51 virus. Only the very rich can afford cats now and they are strictly controlled – ordinary people live in fear of catching a deadly flu from untagged cats

Into Jade’s garden walks Feela, a beautiful female cat with no collar. Jade has never seen a cat and is immediately transfixed and just a little afraid. Jade and her mother have fallen for the animal and hide it. It will change their lives forever. She tries to keep it from her best freind Kris, but itsn’t very good at it and he makes friends with Feela immediately, but doesn’t give them away. The ruthless comprots (Government Child Protectors) now rule England and what they say goes and they say no cats. When Jade sees her Doctor with a scratch he calls in the comprots and they raid her house. Although Feela has mysteriously disappeared, the comprots do so much damage and are so threatening her mother dies of a heart attack. Luckily Kris has stolen Feela that day.

Now Jade, Kris and Feela are on the run from social services. They are trying to get to Ireland where cats cat still roam free.

This is a thrilling story for kids 8-12 and any age. Curiously the second cat book I have reviewed this year, the first being The Catkin by Nick Green, about kids learning to be cats.

The Last Free Cat sets Kris and Jade, barely in their mid-teens, against the whole of England and the vicious comprots. They flee, never knowing who will betray them.. They get a ride from a truck driver Finn, who eyes the catbox greedily and tries to steal Feela. Kris has to fight for the cat in an illegal street market. he wins and they steal the truck. Then there’s a boarding house where they grow suspicious and afraid of Kris and Jade and call the comprots. Nowhere is safe. They run again, borrowing a canal boat. But is there no one they can trust? The media is hunting them now and just when they think they have nowhere to go they find allies in the Free Cats League anddiscover they are not alone.

This is a truly exciting thriller with lots of twists and turns. Kris and Jade are discovering all kinds of resources they never knew they had to keep and protect their cat. They are living in a vicious interfering New Labour kind of Britain where social services and political correctness have destroyed liberty. Can they reach the coast before the comprots catch them? What exactly will they do tokeep Feela safe, especially now she is pregnant.

Jade begins very naive, Kris perhaps too smug, but together they learn much about themselves and just what they are prepared to do to protect a defenceless animal. The Last Free Cat is one of the best young adult adventures in a long time. Be prepared to share. Everyone will want to read this.

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Mandy Francis’s review for Write Away:

A fast-paced and exciting dystopia for children, Jon Blake’s novel takes an interesting subject and keeps the tension going throughout. With a strong female lead and some love-interest, perhaps the story will appeal more to female readers but this was a very satisfying read. Particularly interesting, and perhaps relevant, were the themes of freedom and responsibility. How much would we risk for something we believe in? The characters of Jade and Kris are well-drawn and Blake invents a frightening world in which Comprot holds sway and stun guns, threats and fear are par for the course for the less affluent. Comprot seems to know the teenagers’ every move and there are several high octane chase sections. This is a worthy and exciting novel, which raises a number of pertinent issues.

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Stefanie Hollmichel’s review for So Many Books:

I read Jon Blakes’ The Last Free Cat with my cats Waldo and Dickens curled up beside me. Every once in awhile when things got tense, I’d reach out and caress a head, scratch behind an ear, or rub a chin and I would be rewarded with a purr and sometimes a look of adoration and pleasure.

Imagine then, a world in the not so distant British future in which corporations pretty much tell the government what to do (not so hard to imagine, at least in America), and the top-dog, or I should say top-cat–corporation is Viafara. Viafara is in charge of all the cats. No one is allowed to have a cat unless it has been bought from and registered with Viafara. And in case you think you can breed your own cats you can’t because all Viafara cats are spayed or neutered before you buy them. These cats are so expensive only the well off can afford them making it so most people have only seen pictures of a cat.

Viafara is in charge of cats because of the cat flu. The cat flu broke out many years ago, raging through the cat population and making the jump to humans. All Viafara cats are vaccinated and guaranteed cat flu free.

Now imagine you are 14-year old Jade. Jade lives with her mother on the less expensive side of town. She has come down in the world since her father died and the life insurance company refused to pay up. One day there is a cat in her backyard. The cat does not have a Viafara collar which means she is unowned and unregistered. Jade and her mother should immediately call Comprot–a sort of military police force–but they can’t bring themselves to do it.

They take the cat in and call her Feela. Because it is illegal for them to have the cat, they have to keep it a secret. Everything is going pretty well until Jade’s friend Kris, a boy at school who she both likes and loathes at the same time, notices a cat hair on her sleeve. Jade spills the beans. Kris is invited over to see Feela, hits it off well with Jade’s mother, and to Jade’s dismay, is given a key to their house so he can come by anytime.

Eventually Comprot catches on and raids Jade’s house. They do not find the cat. But Jade’s mother has a weak heart and the stress of the raid, the interrogation and the ripping apart of the house is too much for her and she dies. Jade has no other family and is on her own. She is across the street being kindly treated by a neighbor when Comprot shows up again. The neighbor helps her escape without being seen and Jade finds herself on the run.

It happens that Kris has no parents either and lives being passed around from relative to relative. He has a hidey-hole to which he had given Jade directions. She finds him there with Feela. Kris, worried over Comprot making a possible visit to Jade’s house, had removed the cat to his hiding place.

Kris doesn’t believe a word about the cat flu. He thinks it is all a scam. He has heard that in Ireland cats are free and convinces Jade to set out on a journey to save not only Feela’s life but their own.

The book seems meant for the young YA set but is enjoyable for adults too. It is a coming of age story filled with teen angst and young love. But it is also a story about finding the truth, working for a greater cause and taking a stand. The book is also filled with wonderful instances of the kindness of strangers and goodness coming from unexpected places. If you have a cat-loving reader on your holiday list this year, this might be the book for them.

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Alexandra’s review for Chicklish:

Ready for a different book? The Last Free Cat is about just what the title suggests. It’s about what could possibly be the last cat that hasn’t been tagged and made available only to people rich enough to afford its extortionate price, and it’s found in Jade’s garden.

With the help of her mum and Kris, Jade manages to keep, ‘Feela’ safe for some time, but it doesn’t take long before the authorities (Comprot) find out and try to take their furry friend away.

Jade’s mum’s heart gives out during the raid by Comprot and Jade soon finds herself on the run with Kris and the cat, looking for a safe haven.

Some fast paced, dangerous action accompany their journey as they take on the cat breeding multi-nationals and desperately try to protect the life of their free cat. I won’t say too much more so you can find out all the interesting parts of their journey if you read it!

The author has a great website where you can check out his other books and also a website for feela, where you can see his ‘real life’ inspiration for the one in the book (who I have to say looks scarily like my own!).

Whether you’re a cat lover or not, the book will inspire you to think a bit more about your pets, how valuable they are and what the world would be like if you couldn’t have them.

Recommended for younger teens.

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Ruth Taylor’s review for Books for Keeps:

In a futuristic world controlled by the economic machinations of multinational corporations and state-led fear, the ownership of cats is strictly regulated on the basis that they spread the deadly strain of cat flu, HN51. But when teenager Jade finds an illegal or ‘free’ cat roaming in her garden, her determination to save the beautiful creature from extermination leads to a thrilling pursuit, in which Jade and her confidant, Kris, are hounded down as perpetrators of bio-terrorism.

This well-paced thriller works on a number of levels. Firstly, it is the story of the growth of regulation in society and a cynical analysis of the motivations that underlie this. Secondly, it is the story of Jade and the challenges she faces as she moves towards adulthood, including bereavement, concern over ‘fitting in’ with her peers and confusion regarding her relationship with Kris. Although she is in an extraordinary situation, these elements encourage identification with her character from ordinary readers. Most of all, however, this is a story of optimism and solidarity in the face of oppression. The beauty of the relationship between human and animal is touchingly conveyed and the book culminates in a sense of hope that is truly uplifting.

The overtly political and uncompromising nature of this book will not suit all readers, but it effectively explores the topical issue of encroaching state control in a way that others will find ripe for debate.

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Review by A Confirmed Bookworm.

The Last Free cat is one of those books that once you start, you can’t put it down. The story begins with a mother and her teen daughter, Jade, arguing over a cat that Jade found in their back yard. Seems innocent enough, right? After all, how many parents around the world have at one time argued with their child over adding a pet to the family? But this is where the “normal” part of the story ends and the book dives head-first into a bizarre world where cats are no longer a cute & cuddly house pet, but instead are desired by many but only owned by the very wealthy or are feared as vectors of the deadly cat-flu. Because Jade and her mom are not wealthy, they are suddenly targets of everyone: the government who regulates cat ownership and their neighbors and friends who are terrified of contracting cat-flu. Suddenly, mom and daughter find themselves in hiding in their own home. They know that one wrong move and their house will be invaded by Comprot, short for “Community Protection”. Because, you see, in Jades world, owning a cat is very, very expensive. And illegal, you can count on 10 years in prison for owning a non-registered cat. And no-one questions this, it’s just the way it is. The government has convinced its people that an unregistered cat will be diseased and give anyone who is near one the deadly cat-flu. And if you, like Jade, come across a cat with no collar and decide to keep it, your life suddenly becomes very, very difficult.

Your story might go something like this: First, you meet a new friend, a homeless kid named Kris that you don’t particularly like, but your mom seems to like him, so the next thing you know, he has a key to your house. ”For emergencies” you mom tells you. You also have a a new cat, whom you name Feela and you have to trust that Kris is not going to turn you in. And even more annoying, Feela seems to be totally at ease with Kris when it took you weeks of hard work just to get her to sit on your lap. Then an unexpected tragedy hit and the next place you find yourself is on the run. With a cat….and Kris.

There are tons of unexpected situations in this book, which made me enjoy it even more. The ending was good, it tied things up without being too neat and perfect, maybe even leaving room for a sequel. The characters in the book all have their own distinct personalities without sounding fake or “too much”. And as you start on the journey with this little group, you’ll start to notice that while it seems like everything is normal, something feels a little “off”. First the strange cat law. Then the odd types of transportation, some of it familiar, some of it definitely not. And gadgets that are far from what we’re used to but can imagine being commonplace in the future.

The author makes it work. He really works hard at creating believable dialogue between Jane and Kris and then, later, Amelie and Raff. He writes in plenty of breathless adventurous, that aren’t too far-fetched to believe, these kids are pretty resourceful. And they are determined to do what they feel is right, even if it means they work outside of the law enforcement who are on their tail for the second half of the book.

I think this is a story about a post-apocalyptic, dystopian future, one I hope I never have to live in. It’s about breaking rules when someone (or something) needs help, no matter what sacrifice you have to make, It’s about being rebellious to get what you think is right. It’s about discovering the truth for yourself, rather than having the government tell you what you should be doing/thinking/living, etc. About how, if you have enough people who are strong in their beliefs and willing to carry them out, that good things can happen.

This book falls into the Young Adult category. As a discerning parent, I would be comfortable recommending it to children ages 11 and up. I have two sons who are young teens and they liked it very much and asked me to find more books by this author.

To find more of this outstanding author’s work, check out Jon Blake on Goodreads. To find more exciting books published by Albert Whitman & Company, follow this link.

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Review by Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

When Jade sees the unregistered cat in her garden, she knows she has found something beautiful and dangerous. Jade, a British teenager, lives in a dystopian future in which cats have been privatized. To prevent outbreaks of the deadly virus HN51, also known as cat flu, unregistered cats have been declared illegal and killed en masse. Registered cats are exorbitantly expensive and can be obtained only through the powerful multinational corporation Viafara. Despite the risks, Jade decides to keep the cat, which she names Feela. Before long, Jade, Feela, and Jade’s not-quite-friend Kris are on the run from the authorities, trying their hardest to stay alive. The political and economic characteristics of Jade’s society are never described outright, but nonetheless the occasional details prove chilling. The Internet is owned and administered by the Viafara corporation and the freeweb is illegal. The Terrorism and Aliens Act gives the government access to all individual’s personal information. The police, or Comprot (for “Community Protection”), are brutal and seem to enjoy nearly limitless power over the populace. While the book focuses mainly on cats, it is very clear that cats are only a symbol of the amount of control enacted by the government, which itself seems to be controlled by Viafara.

A compelling read with a likable but naive female protagonist, The Last Free Cat will appeal to fans of the increasingly popular genre of YA dystopian novels. The straightforward writing style and the lack of heavy-handed world building may also interest reluctant readers on the middle school level. While at times bleak and overtly political, this is at its core the coming-of-age tale of a young teen who is forced to become self-aware, self-confident, and able to decide for herself what is right. The anti-authoritarian themes provide an excellent opportunity to discuss issues such as the role of multinational corporations, the appropriateness of government and/or corporate control, and the freedom of information.

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Reviews of other Jon Blake books:

On Geoffrey’s First (young adult novel), now republished as e-book Snails And Lovers :

“A most successful novel. . .Jon Blake is an author to watch out for; perceptive and with a good ear for teenage talk when authority figures are not listening.” (Times Education Supplement, 11.11.88)

“A funny and moving love story. . .Geoffrey is an excellent creation. . .he is extremely funny.” (Sunday Times, 25.9.88)

On Yatesy’s Rap (teenage novel):

“Written in a totally believable first person, fizzes over the page, leaving its readers exhausted from laughing, crying and just keeping up.” (New Statesman, 1986)

On Stinky Finger’s Peace and Love Thing (junior comic novel):

“The writing is of great quality. It’s precise and grammatical and dry and witty and it sneaks in some fairly sophisticated vocabulary barely unnoticed.” (Bookbag website, 2008)

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