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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Goat, by Anne Fleming. Groundwood, 2017. $16.95 ages 9 and up

"But then she thought about the falcon, how it was made to do what it did and had no choice in the matter. It was eat pigeon (of sparrow or rat or raccoon) or die, and Kid supposed that the beauty of the falcon was directly related to its ability to kill, a completely different kind of beauty than the beauty of the pigeon, and that humans' ability to recognize the two beauties ... "

Having grown up in Toronto and then moving to New York City for a few months, Kid is aware that she may have some preconceived notions about this new development in her life. I am here to tell you that nothing could have prepared her for the many discoveries she makes when the family takes up residence in an 11th story Manhattan apartment.

The first, and most unsettling, question concerns the goat that is deemed to live on the roof of the building. Can that be true? Kid really wants to know. The events that unfold on her way to learning the truth are at the heart of this wonderfully unique story about community, love, loss, fears, pets and family.

Her parents have agreed to care for a dog belonging to her father's cousin. The kid is named Kid, the dog is named Cat (actually Catherine the Great) and the fun doesn't end here. Kid's parents have reason to appreciate the time spent in New York. Her father has taken time from his teaching to work on his writing, her mother is preparing for a role in an off-Broadway production. Kid, shy at heart, is soon welcomed to the building by everyone there who knows Cat.

Will, a boy who lives in the building with his grandmother, is the one who tells her about the goat. As they go searching for proof of its existence, they meet the others who live there. We, as readers, learn their stories and come to appreciate the true meaning of community. Through a funny third person narration we learn that the goat has a story, too. While Kid and Will are the main characters, we become familiar with each of the other characters in uncanny and interesting interactions.

Only a very skilled writer could create a stirring story using an absurd premise and keep it from being overwhelming for her readers. Each of the people we meet have something to conquer, especially Will and Kid. They seem to bring out the best in one another, gently encouraging facing those things that threaten to overwhelm them. Together they work with the others in the building at solving the mystery of the goat's presence, always assisting through their own strong storyline. In the end, with humor and  a perfect sense of timing, the mystery is solved and readers are left with a feeling of contentment and delight.

The New York City scenes are described beautifully, the characters are memorable, the wordplay is perfect, and the story is a wonderful blend of joy, sadness, intrigue and hope for all concerned. I think you should read it. It is a book I will read again, for love of the writing itself and for better recall of every action it so skillfully describes.

I am left to wonder what this fine debut author has in store for her young readers.

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