Houck’s debut YA fantasy, which she self-published in 2009, is richly imagined, but pacing and technique lag behind her inventiveness. Eighteen-year-old Kelsey Hayes gets a temporary summer job working at a one-ring circus that features a white Bengal tiger named Dhiren. Kelsey and Ren, as she calls the tiger, form an immediate bond, and when a mysterious businessman purchases Ren, Kelsey is asked to escort him to his new home on an Indian reserve (despite her complete lack of experience). Given extensive foreshadowing, it’s no surprise that Ren turns into a man once back in his native land, inspiring Kelsey to break the ancient curse that forces Ren to shape-shift. The attractive premise is let down by wooden dialogue, excessive detail, and wobbly mechanics; Kelsey’s plainspoken narration more often befits a preteen than a high school graduate (“Poor thing. All alone with no girl tiger and no tiger cubs”). Houck doesn’t quite realize her potential in this outing. Two companion books, Tiger’s Quest and Tiger’s Voyage, are due later in 2011. Ages 12 up.