I've always said that good Young Adult literature can -and should- be enjoyed by adults. Once again, I was proven right *buffs fingernails on shirt* by Debbie Manber Kupfer's P.A.W.S. a coming of age/finding one's self story starring a young girl named Miri who inherits a charm from her Omama (grandmother) that allows her to transform herself into a cat. Along the way she faces many and massive changes to her life as well as threats from an outside force and the sudden reappearance of a family member she had never thought she'd see again. Oh, and this is just the first book in the series. I'd bet the rest of them are going to be crazy.
Manber Kupfer treats us to a story of a hidden world, one where shapeshifting is common and functioning magic is not unusual. One where werewolves exist and have the choice to be good or evil. It is a milieu where some inherit their shape-shifting ability in the form of charms passed down since time immemorial and others have to study and work to learn the magic necessary to change forms. Nothing is as it seems to outsiders - and not always to insiders either.
Miri receives her charm from her Omama but she does not at first realize that her powers actually exist. Even upon realizing that she can shift forms into a cat she does not realize that other powers come along with the gift. She suffers through trying to learn about her power and thence herself throughout the book. This, along with the struggle against an evil werewolf named Alistair, forms the two main problems of the book, but the desire of Miri to learn more about herself is where this book really shines.
P.A.W.S. is a story about a teen aged girl trying to find her place in the world. It feels real mainly because it's a struggle we can all identify with. At some point in time pretty much every human being has to figure out who they are and what they want. Miri is no exception. She flounders a bit but that's okay because we all do. She has to deal with some problems with bullying as well. That's something that many of us, including myself, have dealt with as as well. Miri finds herself in many situations that hit hard, not because of their unusual nature but because I've been there and done that. This is a little girl that I have a lot in common with.
The flip side of that is that she gets to do things that those of us who actually exist can only dream about. What would it be like to change into a cat, to be able to change into a cat and scamper away from trouble? If I could sense and project the emotions of others what would/could I use that for? If I could have chuck my humdrum existence and enter into a magical world, I'd do it in a minute. Miri is a bit more hesitant but it's easier to say that I'd change my whole life in a minute than it would be to actually do it.
Miri is, in some ways, the kind of person we all wish we could be. When one of her former classmates shows up at P.A.W.S. Miri manages to get along with the girl and try to get along with her. When a long lost relative show up, one that Miri feels abandoned by, she does her best to comfort them as they are recovering from their wounds and get to know them. I got the feeling that Miri could very easily have been a very bitter young girl. It's not hard to picture her rejecting people and crawling into a shell. The fact that she does not do so is a credit to her. The fact that this works in the story is a credit to Manber Kupfer. Forgiveness is something I've been struggling with. I could take a lesson here.
P.A.W.S.'s main antagonist is also easy to understand. Alistair is a flat out criminal who covets power for its own sake. He surrounds himself with others who wish to serve him to gain power themselves. Added to that is the power of mind-control. He can literally force people to do things against their will or prevent them from doing things that they want to simply by telling them not to. This isn't just a form of intimidation. They are completely unable to resist. This adds a bit of a horror element to what is otherwise a work of urban fantasy but the more the merrier... and it adds to the story which is important. If you don't hate Alistair by the time you've finished the book then don't ask me why because I can't help you.
He treats the titular organization with hostility because they are a threat to expose and defeat him. He is every inch the conniving, manipulative bastard that men like Hitler, Lenin and Stalin were. He's just not as successful. Then again, he spends the entire story trying to gather more power to himself. He may be on his way. If you want to know how successful he is, I guess you'll have to read the book. It's worth your time.
All that being said, this is not a perfect book. A bit more description would go a long way. The majority of the book takes place in the P.A.W.S. compound but I never really got a good grasp on what it was supposed to look like. This is a story that is very similar in some ways to the Harry Potter saga but it doesn't quite rise to that level and one of the reasons is a lack of imagery. Harry's first view of Hogwarts was epic. Miri's first view of P.A.W.S. is kind of ho hum. This doesn't ruin the story but it does keep it from reaching its full potential. That much being said, this is still a solid story and well worth the time I took to read it. I'll be contacting Mrs. Manber Kupfer shortly and inquiring as to how I can get hold of the sequel.
Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Charms
Debbie Manber Kupfer
Self Published, 2013
P.A.W.S. is available for purchase here: