It’s Victorian England and Maeko is a young street kid with a talent for pick-pocketing and a drive to figure out where she belongs. When she comes across a little cat with an unusual enhancement on its leg, she follows it – right onto a murder scene.

The Girl and the Clockwork Cat by Nikki McCormack is a charming Young Adult novel that offers up an intriguing mystery while adding a fun Steampunk twist. Set in Victorian London, the book leads the reader through a murder investigation and introduces the puzzling, quirky Clockwork Cat. But more than that, the novel deals with the struggles of growing up through the eyes of a scrappy girl who must deal with more crap than the average teenager.

Maeko, separated from her mother at the tender age of seven, has lived on the streets with the notorious band of ruffians known to the police and upper-crust society as the “street rats.” Maeko is valued for her pick-pocketing and lock-picking skills in this group. In this dangerous world, she resigns herself to trusting no one but her mentor, Chaff. When she and Chaff are pursued by police during a robbery, they get separated. She hides in an alleyway and comes face-to-face with a friendly cat with an intriguing clockwork leg.

As she seeks a better source of shelter for herself and the cat, Maeko meets a family of musicians who seem harmless enough, but when Maeko winds up in police custody again, she fears for the fate of the cat and its valuable leg. Luckily she escapes and tracks the cat right onto the scene of a double murder. It’s then she pairs up with the musicians’ son, Ash, to once again escape police custody to prove their innocence.

McCormack’s writing is clear and captivating as she creates in Maeko a likable, empathetic character who is learning the art of growing up: who to trust, how to care for others without hurting herself, and how to handle more than one romantic urge. In Ash and Chaff, McCormack gives us two extremely charismatic characters who are vying for Maeko’s attention and caring for her safety. It’s so much fun!

Though the novel is Y/A, the endearing characters, engaging mystery, and insightful writing moves us to recommend this novel to all audiences.