Book Review: Zoe and Zak and the Ghost Leopard by Lars Guignard

I signed up to review this book as part of a book tour. I only sign up for these types of books when the premise seems interesting. The book was advertised as a combination of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, so I was intrigued.

Though I did not dislike the book, I did not feel like it was truly a mix of these two books. Its style and focus was different. Zoe and Zak, middle-grade-aged kids, are temporarily living in India, where their single parents are busy at work. While away, they leave the kids with a babysitter who doesn’t seem to mind when they slip away to solve a supernatural mystery. There is a mysterious ghost leopard and some nefarious monkey-men, and Zoe’s strange birthmarks seem to be involved.

The premise worked for me. While the supernatural elements they encounter are not realistic, I bought into them. I like the concept of a “chosen one,” Zoe in this case, chosen to save the ghost leopard. I also enjoyed the foray into Indian culture and religion, with discussion of reality and reincarnation.

The book contained some intriguing elements. That said, the elements should have made the book much better than it was. To me, it was too heavily plot-centric. The most interesting character was Zak. He was the one always making dumb decisions. Zoe was a little too easy-going. At first, she tried to resist Zak, but after a while, she just kept going along with the adventure even though it seemed like she didn’t want to. I wanted Zoe to be a little more passionate about something—either excited for the adventure, worried, angry, etc.

To me, the human element could have been emphasized more. I wanted to know more about the characters, their backgrounds, their personalities. Although they went on interesting adventures, the adventures were presented quite matter-of-factly. They were described, but only in the barest sense (possibly a difficulty in using Zoe as the narrator). Because of this, I felt that I never fully “felt” or “experienced” the story; rather, I was simply told it.

When I looked up some information about the author, I see that he wrote for film and television, and that makes a lot of sense. The book read to me more like the way a movie script might. It was a series of intriguing plot points and concepts connected together by the adventure of Zoe and Zak. The scenes and the way Zoe described them seemed like the author saw them playing as a movie in his head. Indeed, I think this would make a better movie than book.

I would recommend this book for younger readers who prefer adventure stories rather than stories bogged down by introspection and character development. And I’ve certainly encountered such readers. I could see myself as a child illustrating scenes from this book and thinking about the concepts in it after I had finished reading. As an adult reader, however, I craved a bit more description and character development.

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