I read Jon Blakes’ The Last Free Cat with my cats Waldo and Dickens curled up beside me. Every once in awhile when things got tense, I’d reach out and caress a head, scratch behind an ear, or rub a chin and I would be rewarded with a purr and sometimes a look of adoration and pleasure.
Imagine then, a world in the not so distant British future in which corporations pretty much tell the government what to do (not so hard to imagine, at least in America), and the top-dog, or I should say top-cat–corporation is Viafara. Viafara is in charge of all the cats. No one is allowed to have a cat unless it has been bought from and registered with Viafara. And in case you think you can breed your own cats you can’t because all Viafara cats are spayed or neutered before you buy them. These cats are so expensive only the well off can afford them making it so most people have only seen pictures of a cat.
Viafara is in charge of cats because of the cat flu. The cat flu broke out many years ago, raging through the cat population and making the jump to humans. All Viafara cats are vaccinated and guaranteed cat flu free.
Now imagine you are 14-year old Jade. Jade lives with her mother on the less expensive side of town. She has come down in the world since her father died and the life insurance company refused to pay up. One day there is a cat in her backyard. The cat does not have a Viafara collar which means she is unowned and unregistered. Jade and her mother should immediately call Comprot–a sort of military police force–but they can’t bring themselves to do it.
They take the cat in and call her Feela. Because it is illegal for them to have the cat, they have to keep it a secret. Everything is going pretty well until Jade’s friend Kris, a boy at school who she both likes and loathes at the same time, notices a cat hair on her sleeve. Jade spills the beans. Kris is invited over to see Feela, hits it off well with Jade’s mother, and to Jade’s dismay, is given a key to their house so he can come by anytime.
Eventually Comprot catches on and raids Jade’s house. They do not find the cat. But Jade’s mother has a weak heart and the stress of the raid, the interrogation and the ripping apart of the house is too much for her and she dies. Jade has no other family and is on her own. She is across the street being kindly treated by a neighbor when Comprot shows up again. The neighbor helps her escape without being seen and Jade finds herself on the run.
It happens that Kris has no parents either and lives being passed around from relative to relative. He has a hidey-hole to which he had given Jade directions. She finds him there with Feela. Kris, worried over Comprot making a possible visit to Jade’s house, had removed the cat to his hiding place.
Kris doesn’t believe a word about the cat flu. He thinks it is all a scam. He has heard that in Ireland cats are free and convinces Jade to set out on a journey to save not only Feela’s life but their own.
The book seems meant for the young YA set but is enjoyable for adults too. It is a coming of age story filled with teen angst and young love. But it is also a story about finding the truth, working for a greater cause and taking a stand. The book is also filled with wonderful instances of the kindness of strangers and goodness coming from unexpected places. If you have a cat-loving reader on your holiday list this year, this might be the book for them.