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Friday, September 20, 2013

Crimes Against Animals are Valiantly Opposed in The See Through Leopard by Sibel Hodge

Sibel Hodge is a UK author who decided to do a giveaway of her latest release on the Goodreads group All About Animals . I had just joined the group after seeing it in my Goodreads friends' feed and was surprised to find that new members are eligible for giveaways.  This is not the case in all groups.  Some groups require that you have a history of activity in the group in order to participate in the group's giveaways.

I was delighted to receive a copy of The See Through Leopard, a YA novel about a griefstricken British teenager whose life is transformed by a leopard.  Last year I'd read Endangered by Eliot Schrefer which received the National Book Award.  Endangered focuses on an African teen whose mother runs a refuge for primates.  I consider it the best novel I read in 2012.  I hoped to be as impressed by Sibel Hodge's book.


  I thought this was a wonderful cover, but it did lead me to expect a sentimental novel without realism.  This is not the case.  Sibel Hodge has evidently done a great deal of research on leopards and the situation of wildlife in Kenya.  A portion of the profits from this book's sale will be going to  Panthera, an organization for the preservation of big cats.

The book opened in England where the protagonist, Jazz, was shattered by the death of her mother and the circumstances surrounding it. Jazz also experienced bullying at her school.  This reminded me of  Apollyon, a novel dealing with bullying by UK author, Hilary West. My 2012 review is at Apollyon Review .  The bullying intensified Jazz's suffering.  It was obvious that Jazz was in crisis.  Jazz's father, a veterinarian, decided to move them to a game reserve in Kenya where he and his wife had worked before Jazz was born. It's there that Jazz encountered the leopard who changed her life.

There were a variety of different species at the game reserve, so Sibel Hodge had an opportunity to enlighten us about elephants,lions and rhinoceroses as well as leopards.  Did you know that elephants can hear infrasound,  that there are staged hunts for lions and a black market trade in rhino horns?

The use of rhino horns in traditional Asian medicine has been thoroughly debunked, but the demand for them continues.  I discovered in an article on Rhino Powder on Chinese Wikipedia that there are numerous formulations for rhino powder that are supposed to deal with a variety of ailments and conditions.  I have respect for some practices of traditional medicine.  Acupuncture has been shown to be of tremendous value, and so have many herbs.  The basis for aspirin is willow bark.  See this report from CNN Health on the History of Aspirin .  I am not being close-minded about alternative therapies when I say that rhino horn is useless.  It is verifiable that rhino horn has no benefit. If any of the rhino powder formulations on that Chinese Wikipedia page ever do what they claim, I'd be willing to bet that it's the herbal ingredients listed that are responsible.  Rhino horn is nothing but keratin.  Human fingernails are composed of keratin.  Both rhino horn and fingernails are medically valueless. Yet if Chinese traditional medicine practitioners insist on including keratin in their formulations, they should grind up their own fingernails and let rhinos keep their horns.

The See Through Leopard isn't all lectures about animals.  There are action plot elements, and the characters are well-portrayed.  I particularly liked Zach, the young aspiring filmmaker whose father runs the reserve. Zach becomes Jazz's friend, and he is terrifically supportive. 

Although I liked this novel very much for its compelling themes and characterization, it's not flawless.  There are times when the lectures get out of hand. Readers who are more tolerant of overt didacticism in fiction  may not consider this a problem.  The most notable example is Jazz's speech toward the end of the novel.  I would have preferred breaking up the speech's text with Jazz's thoughts while giving the speech, or a bit of audience response.  Including context makes fiction more evocative. 

I have one other criticism.  I viewed a World Wildlife Federation video on You Tube called Stop Wildlife Crime the day before reading Jazz' speech.  It seems clear to me that Sibel Hodge referred to organizational materials while composing Jazz' speech. I think that she should have cited the materials she used in her author's note. Some readers will want to know.

I do recommend this book.  I actually loved most of it, but I wouldn't be honest if I didn't include the flaws of a book along with its strengths in my review.