With a title like “The See-Through Leopard,” I was immediately intrigued by this novel by Sibel Hodge. I do not know why I am such a sucker for titles and cover art, but I am and I often pick my books based on those things without even knowing what the book is about. I blindly entered into this novel hoping that the story would match up to the title that drew my attention to the book to begin with.
Jazz Hooper’s life is in total disarray. She was recently in an accident in which her mother was killed and her face was scarred by shattered glass. Feeling guilty about her mother’s death and ashamed of the scars on her face, she has almost completely withdrawn from the world and is sinking into depression. Her father, feeling that she needs a change, decides to accept a job in Kenya on a wildlife preserve that he has worked at before Jazz was born. Needless to say, Jazz is not happy with the idea but there is nothing she can do about it but go along and try to make her father’s life miserable in ways that only a 16 year old can.
When Jazz finds an orphaned leopard whose mother had been killed by poachers, she takes the cub in and is determined to raise it and then prepare it to return to the wild. Her father gets Zach, a boy close to Jazz’s age, to help her take care of the leopard, named Asha, and get her ready to live in the wild once more. Over the course of two years, Jazz begins to leave her depression and insecurities about her appearance behind and transform into confident and competent young woman. A strong friendship blossoms between Jazz and Zach which Jazz secretly hopes could become more than a friendship and Jazz becomes a sort of champion for those who want to stop poaching, even going so far as putting herself in front of a firing line of armed poachers to save an animal.
“The See-Through Leopard” is a young adult novel about a teenage girl coming of age but I think that it has a much broader appeal in that it is just a well-written story. Hodge fills the story with a great deal of detail about the game reserve and the scenery and wildlife are painstakingly fleshed out. The reader is transported into Africa and becomes immersed in the novel in a way that is not common in most books and which shows the love that Hodge has for the continent and its wildlife. This makes the book and its story of Jazz’s growth toward womanhood and acceptance of herself all the more powerful as her feelings about herself blossom along with the scenery.
The shortcoming of the book is that the message of conservation and the battle against poaching becomes more of a distraction to the core story of Jazz’s growth as the novel progresses. While the message was clear from early on in the novel, Hodge brings it to the forefront as the story progresses and it hurt the overall story. Just as the reader begins to sympathize with Jazz and then glory in her transformation, the animal rights message grows stronger and begins to overcome Jazz’s story. For me, this confused the story to some extent and lessened the overall impact of both messages. While Hodge was obviously trying to make a point, and a good one at that, the story did not come together as tightly as I would have hoped and thus the impact was not as strong as it should have been. I just felt that the two messages that Hodge seemed to build did not come together as tightly as they should have and kept this book from being a very good book to just a strong novel. Still, “The See-Through Leopard” is a touching tale that will satisfy not just the young adult reader but adult readers as well and those who, like me, have a strong love of animals and wildlife to find a book that speaks from the heart and to the heart and minds of the reader.
I would like to give a special thank you to NetGalley and Sibel Hodge for this reading copy. “The See-Through Leopard” is available now. With a part of the royalties going to Panthera, an organization dedicated to protecting and preserving the world’s big cats, this book is not only a good novel but also serves a good cause.