It’s Like This, Cat

Its-Like-This-Cat

NEWBERY MEDAL WINNER – 1964

It’s Like This, Cat

by Emily Cheney Neville

Age: 8+

Interests: adolescence, cats, city life, New York

Harper & Row: 1963

180 pages

Also by this author: Berries Goodman, The Seventeen-Street Gang, Traveler From a Small Kingdom, Fogarty

Dave is fourteen and lives with his parents in an apartment in New York in the early 1960s. He spends his time arguing with his Pop, or wandering around the city. His father is an old-fashioned guy and hounds him endlessly about his long hair, about buying records, about really anything at all. His mother is very quiet and is stricken with an asthma attack whenever Dave and his Pop fight. After every argument, Dave storms out to visit a friend of his, an eccentric old cat lady named Kate. One day he meets a stray cat at her place and decides impulsively to keep him, mainly because he knows it will annoy his dog-loving dad. He names it Cat, and the two embark on various excursions around the city and meet some very interesting people. Cat is a catalyst (pun unpremeditated) for many of the novel’s incidents and is even responsible for Dave meeting his first girlfriend.

This low-key story meanders through an entire year in Dave’s life. Realism doesn’t always make for high drama, but this story is still pretty full of incident, especially his chance encounter with a young man in the middle of a burglary. He later befriends the would-be thief Tom, who turns out to be just a college kid down on his luck. Dave also falls out with his childhood best friend but makes a new friend when he begins high school. He continues to visit and defend his friend Kate, and when she unexpectedly inherits a large fortune from her estranged brother, he helps her handle the media circus that ensues. Most importantly, he meets a girl named Mary at Coney Island and over the next few weeks they get to know each other a little better and even kind of go out on dates. He also meets her mom, a full-on beatnik and the absolute opposite of his own parents.

Written in the first person, the author captures Dave’s voice and tone perfectly, especially as he slowly realizes that girls aren’t all simpering fools, and that some of them even talk like real people. It’s an awkward age, and he has grown dissatisfied with much of his life, but has the good heart to help people when he can, which allows him to make some unusual friends. It’s a novel about neighbourhoods, about being thrown together with all kinds of people, and about the freedom that kids used to have to roam about the city streets on their own. This really is a time capsule of New York in that era: Dave and his new friend Mary chance across a theatre where the new musical West Side Story has just opened, and they buy tickets on a whim. And when Dave buys a Harry Belafonte record his father calls the music garbage. Some things really don’t change over the decades. Yet when Dave wants to help Tom out, his dad turns out to be a sympathetic ally. By the end of the book Dave has matured in his actions and his understanding of others, even to the point where he’s not so annoyed by his Pop anymore.

It’s hard to pick the best reader age for this one. The events of the plot might interest an eleven or twelve-year-old, yet the story is dated and now feels a little too benign and naïve for that age.* As well, the larger print of most editions may also put them off: preteens wouldn’t be caught dead reading anything that looks like it was written for little kids! The content is very tame and just fine for ages 8 and up, and that younger age might quite enjoy reading about an older kid. Plus the book is not too long, and is a quick and easy read.

A low-key time capsule of New York in the early 1960s, this is a story of a boy coming to terms with the responsibilities and freedom of adulthood – a kind of Catcher in the Rye with a much less troubled hero.

* And yet in 1964 the novel was controversial choice for Newbery selection because the main character didn’t show the proper respect to grownups… horrors! Times sure have changed…

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.