Rating: Loved (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)
(There are a bunch of different covers, but I couldn't find one online that matched the one I read, so here's a random nice one.)
I had thought that a book's reading level was determined if not solely by, at least weighed very heavily by level of vocabulary. I must have been way off base on that, since this book (for grades 5-7, so even younger than YA), had a number of words I didn't know. To put that in perspective, I usually only have to look up 2-3 words a year. I looked up three in this book alone. Two of them were dated British words, and one I had seen before but wasn't certain about it (a word I generally only see associated with legal issues).
On top of the vocabulary level, I really, really enjoyed the plot. On the surface, it seemed like nothing much happened, but there was a whole heck of a lot of subtle stuff going on, stuff I suppose kids would miss.
The story, set in ancient Rome, was about two tiger cubs who were captured. Both were brought to Rome, one to fight in the Colosseum, the other as a pet for Caesar's daughter. For a book aimed at young kids, it's surprising what happened to the tigers. Brute, the brother destined for the Colosseum, was abused. Tortured by humans. Abused for weeks on end to make him mean enough and hungry enough to fight. Boots, the brother who was to be a pet, was castrated, defanged, and nearly declawed. While none of what happened to either brother was gone into in detail, it was perfectly clear what happened to both of them -- and that they both felt pain from the things done to them.
But, while the tiger cubs were the main focus of the plot, I liked the subplot best: A slave, Boot's handler, fell in love with Caesar's daughter. Of course he didn't even dare think about how he felt about her -- to give any indication at all about it would have meant his death.
As I was reading, I worried I could see the ending coming. A horrible "Happily ever after" ending, where everyone ended up with the most positive ending possible. I was dreading it, because based on the set-up of the plot, it seemed the most unrealistic outcome. But know what? The author had a very positive ending for all involved and was able to make it work perfectly.
I really, really love this author. She also wrote the The Indian in the Cupboard series, which I haven't read but would like to.