Vince has not always been a willing book reviewer for my blog. In the past, I’ve used bribery and threats to get him to read books for me.
But this time, I found Vince curled up with Joanne Rocklin’s new middle-grade novel The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook (Amulet, 2012).
And then, a few days later, Vince created the following review. I think the enthusiasm he showed for this title is the best endorsement possible.
Take it away, Vince.
First, I’d like to get one thing straight.
We evaluate. We judge. We dismiss.
Sure, when the situation warrants, we also purr and play and, if it suits our purposes, snuggle.
But crying? No way.
And, while I’ll admit that I read The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook. I did not so much as sniffle.
Sure, the story might make less-cultured creatures tear up. It’s about an older sister, Oona, and her younger brother, Freddy, and their mom and their cat, Zook (short for Zucchini). And parts of it are, objectively, sad.
Oona and Freddy’s dad died several years ago, and they all miss him a lot. And Oona has a secret she’s been hiding about Zook, who is, as it happens, sick and at the veterinarian. The secret makes her feel guilty and having Zook at the vet makes her feel worried.
Now, a word about veterinarians if you will.
I try to avoid them at all costs. In fact, all the people who feed me have to do is get out my cat carrier and I start yowling on principal. I’ve mastered the art of not going into a cat carrier, so they usually end up wrapping me in a blanket and carrying me, which never seems fair.
Veterinarians do terrible things like hold you down and clip your claws. And pry open your mouth to look at your teeth. And squeeze your stomach. All while telling you how handsome they think you are.
So, I don’t blame Oona for not trusting the veterinarian caring for Zook. She’s a smart girl. Although her reasons for not trusting him are a little offbeat. But Oona does have an imagination that gets carried away at times. Anyway, Oona decides to catnap Zook and bring him back home where she’s certain he’ll get better. But she’s caught in the attempt, which leads to a Serious Discussion with her mother.
And those are never good things.
If all this weren’t enough, Oona is also worried about her mother’s growing friendship with Dylan. Dylan seems nice enough, but Oona thinks she knows bad things about him. In fact, she refers to him as “The Villain” in her mind. Unfortunately, her reasons for disliking him aren’t any better than her reasons for disliking the veterinarian. (Although in the case of the veterinarian, I can at least see why she’s predisposed not to like him.)
To keep her mind off her troubles and to help her little brother feel better, Oona starts telling him stories about Zook’s previous lives and the daring feats he performed in each. These were my favorite parts of the book. Oona has an obvious understanding of the natural heroicism and grandeur of cats. Freddy likes these stories, too, and is comforted when Oona reassures him that cats have nine lives and Zook is only on his fifth one.
But Oona’s secret, and her stories, catch up with her.
She discovers that Dylan and Zook share an unexpected connection and that her secret might be revealed. And, when Dylan shows a nicer side than she expected, she has to reconcile her conflicted feelings about him.
Ultimately, Zook comes home, and all seems well. Oona even tells her secret and finds out it’s not as bad as she expected. But then, Zook gets sick again and things are not well at all. In fact, it looks like Zook might … might …
(Editor’s note: Vince had to take a break at this point in the review. He insisted his seasonal allergies were acting up, and I didn’t argue with him.)
Anyway, Oona takes the news especially hard. So does Oona’s mom, who even argues with Dylan. But Freddy is calm. He expects Zook to return any moment for his sixth life. And when that doesn’t immediately happen, Freddy falls apart. Until Oona, her mom and, eventually, Dylan help him move on.
It’s heartwarming and, for other more-emotional readers, quite moving. So have some Kleenex handy.
Not that I needed them.
Thank you, Vince, for that cat-tastic review!
Non-feline readers will also appreciate the rebuses Oona uses throughout the book that are fun to figure out. And the tips for telling stories she shares at the end. And while I’ve never eaten deep-fried zucchini, the book made me feel that it might be a good thing to try.
If you want to know the story behind the story of this book, including the lost cat that inspired it, read this blog post by author Joanne Rocklin.
She sounds like an all-around, cool cat of a person.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I did ask Vince if it’s true cats really have nine lives. He suddenly had pressing matters to take care of in another part of the house. If he gets back to me, I’ll let you know.
If you’d like to see Vince’s other literary leanings, check out his reviews of: