Monday, January 21, 2008

Zizou Corder

by Zizou Corder
Recommended Age: 12+

Charlie Ashanti is an interesting boy, and he lives in an interesting world. Half-English, half-Ghanaian, he also has a bit of cat blood (long story) and so, since a very early age, he speaks cat. Cats love Charlie because he speaks to them in their own language and understands what they have to say. They also love Charlie’s parents because they are important scientists on the verge of a breakthrough that could change the world for cats.

Which brings us back to the subject of Charlie’s world. His story takes place in a future when most petrolium-fueled vehicles have been banned. Transportation depends on solar and wind power, and cats aren’t welcome in most dwellings. Why? Because of a global epidemic of severe asthma, made worse by allergies and engine emissions. Charlie is lucky to be one of the few people in the world immune to cat allergies, though he does have asthma.

But Charlie’s luck is about to be put to the test. Powerful people have stolen his parents, and Charlie himself barely escapes from being kidnapped. Running for his life with little going for him but his ability to talk to cats, Charlie joins a floating circus and becomes the assistant to a frightening lion trainer named Maccomo. Charlie realizes that, in addition to searching for his parents, he must also help six beautiful, yet dangerously wild, lions escape from the circus and go back to their home in Africa.

This is an eventful, provocative, richly colored tale that moves swiftly from London to Paris and beyond, by boat and by train, crowded with extravagantly unusual people and some remarkable animal characters. It has mystery, suspense, and even horror, particularly on the eerie night when boy and lions flee from the circus. It has villains who are pathetic, ridiculous, magnetic, repellent, terrifying, and various unlooked-for mixtures of the above. It has a hero who is tortured by loneliness, guilt, anxiety, and inner conflict about what he must do. It has, indeed, a bright thread of political preachiness woven right through it. And most unusual of all, it has an author who is two people. “Zizou Corder” turns out to be Louisa Young and her daughter Isabel Adomakoh Young, whose family must be the basis for Charlie’s.

OK, it isn’t really all that unusual. Ellery Queen was a couple of guys, remember? (Surely someone remembers Ellery Queen.) It’s interesting just to think about how two people could write a book together, even two people who are as similar in their thinking as a mother and daughter might be. But these two people didn’t write just one book together; they wrote a whole trilogy, which continues in Lionboy: The Chase.

Lionboy: The Chase
by Zizou Corder
Recommended Age: 12+

If you have read Lionboy, the first book in the aptly named “Lionboy Trilogy,” you already know that Charlie Ashanti lives in a post-combustion-engine future and speaks the language of cats. You know that his parents are scientists on the verge of discovering a cure for asthma, and that they have been kidnapped by a sinister corporation that plans to brainwash them into working for itself. You also know that Charlie is running from not only a would-be kidnapper, and the powerful people backing him, but also from a floating circus and the creepy lion trainer, whose six beautiful lions are also running away...with Charlie.

Together Charlie and the lions are trying to find Charlie’s parents and the lions’ home in the forests of Morocco. Their trail—a false trail, as it happens—leads them to Venice, under the protection of an endearingly silly Bulgarian king and his neither endearing nor silly intelligence expert, Edward. Edward has taken charge of Charlie and the lions, turning the king’s Venetian Palazzo into a damp prison in the midst of a beautiful but sadly decaying city. Edward has some kind of plan which may make it even harder for Charlie and the lions to continue on their way. But he hasn’t reckoned on Charlie and his friends, nor on the restless citizens of Venice, any more than the Corporacy has counted on the ability of a mangy cat named Sergei to single-pawedly liberate two of its most valued captives: Charlie’s parents.

This middle installment of the trilogy keeps the tension ratcheted up. In the midst of major events (political upheaval, environmental disaster, etc.) Charlie and his lion friends seem at times to be hopelessly tiny figures, but in their loyalty and courage they turn out to be extraordinary heroes. Just wait until you get your paws on the final book in the trilogy, Lionboy: The Truth.

Lionboy: The Truth
by Zizou Corder
Recommended Age: 12+

After escape upon escape, Charlie Ashanti has finally been reunited with his parents, the lions have returned to their native forest, and the bad guys have gotten theirs. (See Lionboy and its sequel, Lionboy: The Chase for more on what I mean.) However, Charlie and his parents aren’t entirely out of danger. The evil Corporacy is more determined than ever to control Charlie’s parents and their scientific knowledge. An embittered teen hoodlum and a diabolical lion trainer are both willing and able to capture Charlie in order to lure his parents into the Corporacy’s trap.

But Charlie still has lots of friends – lots of strange and wonderful friends. And so ensues a zany chase across an entire ocean, involving an embarrassment of boats carrying concerned parents, a Venetian gondolier, a Bulgarian king, two Moroccan lions, and an entire circus. Charlie also has more family than he knew, including an aunt he has barely met, and a cousin he knows way too well.

As Charlie and his family, friends, and enemies get closer to the heart of the Corporacy’s dastardly plans, forget about expecting what is going to happen next. To the discredit of the author, or rather authors (Zizou Corder is a pen name for the mother-daughter writing team of Louisa and Isabel Adomakoh Young), not all of these characters end up contributing much except the book equivalent of an operatic “grand finale” ensemble number. To their credit, however, they blend a high degree of “social consciousness” with such an enjoyable adventure that you don’t necessarily feel as if you’ve been preached at. Though, really, you have.

This is a trilogy that preaches about environmental responsibility, animal rights, the ethics of scientific research, racial relations, freedom, and above all, the courage to put the needs of others ahead of your own. But it is also a trilogy that features a multilingual lizard, some highly verbal cats, a humane monarch, an invisible boat (owned by a suspiciously familiar Cuban gentleman), an amorous whale, and a hilarious depiction of a whole islandful of people suffering withdrawal from a brainwashing drug. There is creepiness (this book won’t help the tourism industry in Haiti much), high adventure, comedy, family drama, surprises, and plenty of love between a boy and his parents and friends, both human and animal.

1 comment:

Mrs. F-B's Books Blog said...

I just found your blog. Very cool. We're going to be doing an all school reads project in March using Lionboy, so I enjoyed reading your reviews. I think this is a great series for kids because it has a lot of levels - younger students might only enjoy the story part, but others will get the deeper levels of the writing. I loved that the writing of this story was a joint venture between a young girl and her mother!