Zoe and Zak and the Ghost Leopard by Lars Guignard
Print Length: 340 pages
Publisher: Fantastic Press (November 9, 2013)
Genre: Juvenile fiction
When 11-year-old Zoe Guire arrives in India on a brief sojourn with her mom, she has no idea what is in store for her. She also has no idea that she possesses hidden powers. Upon their arrival, Zoe discovers (to her mild annoyance) that Zak Merril, a boy she knows from school, is also there with his dad, who is Zoe’s mom’s colleague. Events take a strange turn and both Zoe’s mom and Zak’s dad have to leave to sort out a few things. Ostensibly, Zak and Zoe will remain at the Delhi Grand Palace hotel under the supervision of a babysitter. But that’s not the way things happen at all. Within a short space of time, Zoe and Zak have encountered a definitely no-good character called Frank Berger, found an antique map, sneaked into Berger’s hotel room, hidden away in an old trunk, and then been transported to a strange place, miles from their nice, safe hotel. Plunged into an adventure involving a talking elephant, unusual local characters, and lots of danger, thrills, and spills, Zoe and Zak must stay alive and protect a mythical creature called the Ghost Leopard. It doesn’t help that Zoe keeps having really scary dreams as well.
This is adventure with a capital ‘A’ and the kind that middle grade readers will love. Although the book does have a slow start, soon Zoe and Zak are neck-deep in sinister people, events, and possible Very Bad Outcomes. The author does a fine job of painting the picture of India, from the ambiance, to the people, to the various cultural references. This places the young reader slap bang in the new and sometimes fantastical environment. India is full of amazing legends and fantasy elements and the author has used these to great advantage. Zoe and Zak see the ‘real’ India that tourists don’t encounter, and this is absolutely one of the high points of the story. While there is sometimes too much information, and it can slow down the pace, I think young readers will breathe in the ambiance with relish. Fantasy merges with reality in the author’s capable hands with descriptions to take young readers as high as the magic carpet they encounter. Zak is as ‘supermega majorly’ annoying as any sixth-grade boy can be and he provides many chuckles with his clumsy efforts to manage things. Zoe is intense, thoughtful, and takes things more seriously. I enjoyed the balance between the two characters and kids will certainly relate to them. This is an action-packed, magical adventure with enough excitement and peril to keep young readers glued to the pages. This is the first of Zoe and Zak’s adventures so young fans can look forward to more fantastical events.
Reviewer’s bio: Fiona Ingram is an award-winning middle grade author who is passionate about getting kids interested in reading. Find out more about Fiona and her books on www.FionaIngram.com. She reviews books for the Jozikids Blog.