Unlikely allies team up to save a forest in this middle-grade novel.
In McFadden’s debut, a young feline befriends a wise old tree. Cat enjoys listening to Tree’s stories, which are more than just entertainment: They’re the true account of a tree named Live (later revealed to be Tree’s actual name) and his siblings, who tried and failed to stand up to an entity called the Dark Shadow in their youth. Now that the Dark Shadow is returning to the forest, Tree needs Cat’s help to unite his separated siblings. Meanwhile, in the human world, a young man named Cornerback is concerned by the plastic ribbons appearing on the trees in his beloved forest. He’s also troubled by the way his father, the town mayor, has been behaving; he’s seemed off ever since he had an accident in the woods a year ago. As Cat travels to find Tree’s relatives, other forest creatures help her gather acorns and leaves, as Tree requested; at the same time, Cornerback is busy training a new puppy and building a tree fort with his best friend. It’s a leap year, and on Feb. 29, a rare lunar eclipse is set to occur; it’s also Cornerback’s, his father’s and his grandmother’s birthdays. The young man sneaks out to the forest to watch the celestial sight—and soon ends up joining Cat, the forest creatures and trees in a fight against the Dark Shadow. The novel relays its conservation message in an original way, although younger readers might miss it in all the action. While talking animals are fairly common in fiction, talking trees (which are a bit more mobile than average plants) lend the book a magical feel, as does Cornerback’s ability to understand animal languages. At times, Cat’s and Cornerback’s parallel stories feel like two separate novels. However, Cornerback’s often humorous antics help to add a lighter tone to Cat’s serious, time-sensitive assignment to track down Live’s siblings.
Plot twists, magic, danger and action keep this YA fantasy novel moving swiftly along.