Friday, June 4, 2010

It's Like This, Cat, by Emily Neville

This is a coming-of-age book, but less dramatic than many in that category. It feels like a walk on a long summer day with the main character, Dave, even though the book actually spans a considerable amount of time.

Dave is 14 at the start of the book, and lives in a Manhattan apartment with his lawyer father and stay-at-home mom. His life consists of a friend or two from school, riding bikes, exploring Coney Island, and an elderly neighbor named Kate, who takes in stray cats. Like any 14-year-old boy, he and his father have their conflicts, and he's angry when his best friend is more interested in girls than in hanging out the way they always used to. At the beginning of the book, we learn how Dave acquires "Cat", a stray tom that Kate needed to find a home for. We watch as Cat subtly causes events in which Dave meets several new and interesting people, including Tom, a slightly older boy, who is alone in New York and gets into a little trouble - not too much - and Mary, a girl from Coney Island, who he finds he likes better than most girls. As his family helps Tom get his life on track, and helps Kate when her life changes dramatically one day, Dave realizes that his own life is looking better too.

The language that probably made this book current and interesting when it was published makes it age the least well of all that I've read for this project; it's chock full of early 60s slang that didn't last. I recognized a "duck tail" and "butch" haircut when I pulled up a google image search, but had no idea when I read them. When Dave spends a day or two of his summer vacation painting the kitchen for his mother, he calls it "getting public-spirited at home", and he's always talking about "being sore" with people. But while it takes you back in time linguistically in a distracting way, the book is also a great look at New York City and what it might have been like to be a (reasonably well-to-do) kid there during that time. He talks about seeing West Side Story when it was new and current, and takes the city's cultural diversity for granted in a way that was delightful to this reader. The adventure Dave has within a bike-ride from home would have been fascinating to me when I was in the target audience, as my summer vacations were dominated by bike-riding too, with more limited destinations. But I also happily read flea-market Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames books from the 40s and 50s at the time; I'm not sure how well this book would translate for most of today's kids.

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