The Unex­pect­ed Adven­tures of C.A.T.

  • Review
By – September 13, 2023

Chil­dren who love their cats will be delight­ed by the premise of Johan­na Hurwitz’s new nov­el. Chaya Ann Tober not only has ini­tials that spell out her favorite ani­mal, but she also empathizes with them to the point of com­plete iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. When she acci­den­tal­ly expe­ri­ences a strange meta­mor­pho­sis, she con­firms her sus­pi­cion that her feline friends are under­ap­pre­ci­at­ed by humans. The adven­ture proves that peo­ple and cats both need compassion.

Hur­witz encour­ages read­ers to recon­sid­er the assump­tion of Chaya’s friend that it’s bet­ter to be a fourth grad­er than a cat.” Less cen­tered on char­ac­ter devel­op­ment and more on improb­a­ble events with unex­pect­ed con­se­quences, the nar­ra­tive uses humor in its com­par­isons of species. One clever and refresh­ing ele­ment of the sto­ry is its word­play. Not only do cat’s cra­dle” and cat­nip” make appear­ances, but so do the less obvi­ous cat­a­stro­phe,” cat­a­lyst,” and cat­a­log.” Chaya also works her obses­sion with cats into her oth­er inter­ests, as when she plays the clar­inet solo asso­ci­at­ed with Ivan the cat in Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf.

Chaya is Jew­ish, and her fam­i­ly is obser­vant. This part of her iden­ti­ty is nice­ly inte­grat­ed into the sto­ry and pre­sent­ed in a nat­ur­al and unas­sum­ing way. Chaya describes how to play Scrab­ble on Shab­bat with­out keep­ing a writ­ten score sheet and offers appeal­ing details about Fri­day night’s tra­di­tion­al meal. She also relates how food from dif­fer­ent cul­tures can be pre­pared accord­ing to the rules of kashrut. But reli­gious obser­vance is not the only indi­ca­tor of Jew­ish cul­ture: her fam­i­ly attends a con­cert by an Israeli musi­cian, which paints a more com­plete pic­ture of who they are. This dimen­sion of the sto­ry is per­fect for read­ers who share Chaya’s back­ground, as well as those who are less famil­iar with it.

Sam Loman’s live­ly pic­tures accom­pa­ny the text, com­ple­ment­ing Hurwitz’s first-per­son nar­ra­tion. Chaya’s unwa­ver­ing loy­al­ty to cats opens the door to an unusu­al con­flu­ence of worlds, with cats, peo­ple, and Jew­ish iden­ti­ty all intersecting.

The Unex­pect­ed Adven­tures of C.A.T. includes a glos­sary of cat vocab­u­lary and a brief biog­ra­phy of the author.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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