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Claws    by Dan Greenburg order for
by Dan Greenburg
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Since Cody was a toddler, his Mom told tales about her ability to read his thoughts, saying that if he ran away, she would find him. Mom is Dr. Christine Redman, a psychiatrist with a TV show, whose abusive personality does not permit sharing the limelight. Cody Redman is fourteen, passing himself off as sixteen, with fake ID's sporting different names. His reason? To escape from his abusive parent in New York City. Cody heads west, continually haunted and hunted by his mother. He tells people that his parents are dead.

Cody is employed at Dusty's Tex-Mex eatery in Dallas, when he hears of an interesting job working with tigers. He hitchhikes to an area near Saddler's Creek and is hired at the Sam Houston Tiger Ranch owned by Sunny Carter. Ranch-hand Deke Halligan becomes Cody's guide in the care of the big cats - feeding, exercising, cleaning cages of excrement and carcasses, and how to behave around them. Walking by the animal pens, 'some of the tigers called out to Deke in yawning voices that sounded like Chewbacca from 'Star Wars'. Deke stopped and talked to them ... by making 'chuffing' noises ('sounding like 'Ff-ff-ff-ff-ff ... and a little like horses when they blow out their nostrils').' About the heat in Texas, Deke offers , 'If I owned Hell and Texas, I'd rent out Texas and live in Hell ... last week… it was so hot I seen a dog chasin' a cat and they were both walkin.'

The entrance to the ranch bears the warning sign: 'Sam Houston Tiger Ranch Trespassers Will be Eaten'. Cats on the Ranch include tigers, lions, panthers, and cougars. Cody always told his friends 'I'm not afraid of anything!', and now he gets the opportunity prove it. Talking to bunkmates Randy and Harlan, discussion turns to a rumor about Sunny - that she killed her brother Wayland, who disappeared four weeks before. A third bunkmate, Dwayne, is a drunk and a bully, who thrives on teasing and provoking the cats, especially powerful Brutus, a white 800 lb. Siberian tiger. (Dwayne does so once too often.) Sunny trains Cody to deal with the cats inside the pens: 'don't let these tigers think you're afraid of them ... Never let a tiger out of your sight. This is very important: Never turn your back on a tiger. If you turn your back on a tiger, he's goin' to think you're prey.'

On a day off work, Cody hikes the highway to visit friends at Dusty's Tex-Mex, and learns that the cops were at the restaurant looking for him. His friends denied knowing Cody so he's safe for the moment but the noose tightens. He considers leaving the Ranch and heading for another State, but is 'so tired of running from her'. Detectives arrive at the Ranch to follow-up their investigation on the disappearance of Sunny's brother Wayland. When Cody sets out to prove that Sunny didn't kill her brother, the story becomes more intense and suspenseful - even more so, when a tornado hits the Ranch, resulting in a big fire in the fields, and missing cats ... including big Brutus!

Dan Greenburg bases Cody's story on his own experiences at a ranch in Texas, 'housing sixty-six tigers, half a dozen lions, and assorted leopards and cougars'. He writes, 'my parents were so protective of me in Chicago, so to overcome my fears, I've spent most of my adult life deliberately seeking out dangerous adventures ... testing myself in risky situations was almost as exhilarating as the writing itself.' Claws provides congenial lessons in big cat habits, and why they do what they do. Cody travels a journey of escape from abuse, the excitement of learning to love the big cats, the mystery of a disappearance, the intensity of a tornado twister, and true caring and friendship. Cody tells us that 'Life doesn't always work out the way you want it to, but sometimes the bad guys get what they deserve.'

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