Never Pick on a Jaguar Princess is a young adult paranormal novel targeted at the tween and early teen girl audience. The author employs clear, direct language and doesn't load the story down with superfluous minutiae. The heroine, Juliana, is a fifteen year old girl, recently orphaned when her parents were killed in a car crash by a drunk driver. She comes to live with her aunt on the family farm in Onca lake, Texas. Juli is a nice girl, smart but on the quiet side. She's bookish, likes to play chess, but is also athletic. She's mature for her age, especially given the terrible loss she's suffered. She remains conscientious, considerate of others and even tempered throughout the novel.
As she nears sixteen, Juli's shape shifting gifts begin to manifest. She scares chickens, has strange dreams, develops itchy spots and eventually grows fur at inconvenient moments. Initially the poor girl is confused and who could blame her? She struggles to accept her feline nature and eventually delights in her newfound abilities. The younger reader will find her journey to be a fun and captivating flight of imagination. However, as a mother of three, the idea of parents not only failing to prepare but actively keeping their child in the dark strained my credibility.
Much of the plot revolves around tryouts for the high school track team. Juli seems to regard membership as more than a way of making new friends. Then team provides social validation in addition an outlet for her innate aggression and high energy. Although I was never on the high school track team, the length of time the tryout took felt too drawn out.
The story deals with the subject of bullies rather extensively when Juli becomes the target of a mean group of girls called the Track Pack. The author adopts a middle-of-the-road approach. Juli talks to her aunt about the problem but they do not go to school authorities. The heroine employs various methods of resolving this external conflict, including attempts to diffuse it and standing up for herself. I felt the matter was deftly handled.
A council of shifters who meet in their partial animal forms provides some comedy relief and also serves to advance the primary subplot. Another cat shifter in Onca Lake is actively seeking to harm the girls who are mean to Juliana. The external threat helped build tension as the story sped at a quick clip toward its resolution.
NPoaJP doesn't wrap up with a neat ribbon tying everything together but the story does offer a satisfactory conclusion. Since this story was meant to be the first in a series, the questions left unresolved were OK by me. Romance elements are sweet and limited to kissing. There is mention of teenage drinking but in way of the cautionary tale--don't do it. Violence is mild. I'd be perfectly comfortable recommending this book for an eleven-year-old reader interested in paranormal fiction.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.