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Check It Out: The Leopard is Loose by Stephen Harrigan

This is Kelsey Patterson with the Sioux City Public Library and you’re listening to Check It Out.

Today, I’m recommending The Leopard is Loose by Stephen Harrigan. For Grady McClarty, an ever-watchful but bewildered, 5-year-old boy, World War II is only a troubling, unfathomable event that occurred before he was born. But he feels its effects all around him. He and his older brother are fatherless, and their mother is still grieving the loss of her fighter-pilot husband. Most of all, Grady senses it in his two uncles: young combat veterans determined to step into a fatherhood role for their nephews, even as they struggle with the psychological scars they carry from the war.

Their family’s fragile, postwar tranquility explodes when news breaks that a leopard has escaped from the Oklahoma City Zoo. The playthings, imagined fears, and anxieties of Grady’s childhood begin to give way to real-world terrors, most imminently the dangerous jungle cat itself.

With a spare writing style, similar to the likes of Kent Haruf, Steve Harrigan has made a grand return to fiction with a story that is both a stunning encapsulation of America in the 1950s and a deeply felt coming-of-age tale. I think what serves the author well in his approach to the story is his multi-faceted background. Not only a novelist, Stephen Harrigan is also a journalist, historian, and screenwriter. He created such a strong sense of place throughout the book and the character-driven storyline kept me thoroughly invested in the story.

But where I think this book really shines is in Harrigan’s astonishing ability to embody the mind of his young protagonist and how powerfully he approaches a child confronting their deepest fears. Many an author make the mistake of being too sentimental or heavily sweet when writing from a child’s perspective, but Harrigan deftly avoids that error.

Check out The Leopard is Loose and other moving works of fiction like it at the Sioux City Public Library.

Support for Check It Out on Siouxland Public Media comes from Avery Brothers.

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