Catherine “Cat” Locke knows that things are going to be different — because this year? Her science project is majorly going to blow rival Matt McKinney’s out of the water — allowing her to finally show him up in something and exact her revenge on a young man whose friendship she once valued more than anything.
Using herself as the experiment, Cat decides to recreate the lifestyle of early humans, meaning she’ll no longer eat traditional food, watch television or surf the Internet, chat on a cell phone, ride in a car (except in emergencies) — even purchase new, store-made clothing. Always one to battle with her weight and health, Cat hopes the experiment will demonstrate that modern man has done terrible damage to his body by straying away from a “traditional,” natural lifestyle.
Or is it just that she wants to lose weight, look great — and kick Matt’s butt in the science competition?
And so begins Cat’s journey in Robin Brande’s Fat Cat, one of the best young adult novels I’ve read lately. Despite her weight insecurities and overwhelming anger at Matt, Cat is a self-assured, funny and empowered teen who isn’t afraid to think differently and work hard. The premise of Brande’s novel — a science experiment — felt really unique to me, and I’ve definitely never come across a story that rivals Fat Cat in terms of content.
So I’m a total English geek. Sitting in math and science classes in high school, I was lucky if I could keep my eyes from closing as the teacher droned on — and managed to pull off a decent grade in those classes. Starting Fat Cat, I worried that my brain is so hard-wired towards Shakespeare, sonnets and novels, I wouldn’t be able to easily identify with a big science mind like Cat. Prejudiced, I know, but true!
Well, any reservation I had in that regard dissipated pretty quickly. Cat is smart and sassy, and the novel couldn’t have succeeded with her as the heroine. Add in her fun and empowering best friend Amanda; Amanda’s boyfriend Jordan, a sweet and caring example of what a great love can be; and Matt, the object of Cat’s ire (and secret desire?) and you have a pretty awesome cast of characters. The Locke family, too, creates a wonderful balance for Cat, and it’s fantastic to see supportive, realistic parents portrayed in a young adult novel. Like many readers, I’m pretty sick of the whole “OMG, my parents don’t understand me and I hate them!” plot . . . as well as the whole “my parents work late and are never around, so I can do whatever I feel like without any consequences” nonsense.
No, Fat Cat was pretty near perfect — a funny, fast-paced book with plenty of heart. As Cat’s experiment continues and she begins to catch the eye of high school boys — a first — her reactions are both hilarious and heart-breaking. In fact, that’s how I felt about much of the story: for each funny moment, a nugget of truth was buried behind it. It kept me captivated and eager to pick up the story at every turn, and I love that I never really knew where the plot was going.
This is a book I could read again — and one I’ll be eager to recommend to folks looking to pick up a young adult novel, but not sure if the genre is for them. Brande’s coming-of-age and coming-into-one’s-own-skin story made me feel warm all over, and if you liked this one? Definitely pick up Suzanne Supplee’s Artichoke’s Heart; both novels made me think long and hard about the food I’m consuming — and the way I look at my own life.
4.5 out of 5!