Review | The Travelling Cat Chronicles, Hiro Arikawa (translated by Philip Gabriel)

40961230I loved this book so much! The Travelling Cat Chronicles is such a beautiful, moving story about a cat named Nana and his beloved human Satoru, and the road trip they take to find Nana a new home. Along the way, they reconnect with people from Satoru’s past, old friends from school who may be trusted to give Nana a loving family. The reason Satoru needs to give Nana up isn’t revealed till later in the book, but the truth is that Nana doesn’t want to leave Satoru. And as the road trip progresses and one excuse after another renders each potential new home the wrong fit, Nana and Satoru end up having a lovely adventure and creating beautiful memories together.

This book just took hold of my heart from the very first moment when Satoru discovers a stray cat lounging on the hood of his silver van. Arikawa imagines such a beautifully distinctive voice for Nana that I can just imagine a feisty feline actually thinking these thoughts and acting this way. (Kudos as well to Philip Gabriel for translating Arikawa’s words so beautifully!) Nana begrudgingly takes Satoru’s offer of friendship, enjoying the delicious crunchies the man leaves out while haughtily maintaining his distance as a free feline on the streets. I loved seeing how Nana initially realizes his affection for Satoru almost against his will, but once he makes the decision to live with the man, becomes the most fiercely loyal companion.

The reason behind the road trip isn’t too difficult to guess, and without giving any spoilers away, I’ll just admit that the last few chapters absolutely broke my heart. I cried so hard at the ending, not because something sad happens, but because Arikawa so beautifully portrays the depth of love between Nana and Satoru. There’s a scene where Nana sneaks into a place he shouldn’t be in, that honestly, any pet owner would be lucky to have such an animal in their lives.

So often, books that are this emotionally heartwarming about the bond between pets and their humans are written about dogs. As a cat lover, I’m so happy to have this story finally told from a cat’s point of view. We also hear from the perspectives of the friends Nana and Satoru meet along the way, and learn about their stories and their lives. Through it all, Arikawa just creates an overwhelmingly warm and loving sense of community and family amongst his characters, and it was an absolutely joy to spend a few hours with them.

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Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Body Swap, Sylvia McNicoll

36569630After a car accident kills both fifteen-year-old Hallie and eighty-two-year-old Susan, both are given a second chance at life with one condition: that they use their time back on Earth to prove whether or not the Hurricane SUV Susan was driving actually has a dangerous design flaw, and thereby prevent similar accidents for other drivers. The catch: when they wake up back on Earth, they realize they’ve swapped bodies.

Body Swap is a funny and moving take on the Freaky Friday trope. This time, the characters switching bodies have never met before the switch, and so the themes of empathy and understanding are a broader in scope. McNicoll does a great job in showing how both teenagers and seniors are often discounted and ignored, and how women of all ages also face a similar issue. There’s a thought-provoking section where Susan thinks about how there’s a window of about twenty years in which someone can expect to be taken seriously, and that’s it. And during their investigation of the SUV’s design flaw, both Hallie and Susan realize they need Susan’s son — as a middle-aged white man and a lawyer — to argue the case on their behalf, just so their warnings will be taken seriously.

I really enjoyed this book. I loved how giddy Susan was in being back in a healthy and effortlessly fit teenage body, and I could imagine how difficult it must have been for Hallie, who has always been impatient with how slow seniors move, to learn to live with the aches and pains of old age. I thought the subplot about Susan’s son wanting to move her to an assisted living facility felt very realistic, and I love how Hallie used her time in Susan’s body to advocate for Susan’s right to determine her own life. There’s also a strong scene at the mall where Susan, a white woman, comes face to face with the racism and profiling that Hallie, a Black teen, has to confront regularly, and I wish McNicoll had done a bit more with that part of their dynamic.

My favourite part by far is the love story: Hallie died without ever having kissed a boy, so Susan agrees to use her time in Hallie’s body to help her attract her crush Chael (pronounced ‘kale’). But Susan quickly realizes that Chael’s a bit of a jerk, and Hallie’s friend Hardeep is actually a much better choice. I loved the giddy buildup of romantic tension between Susan-as-Hallie and Hardeep, and how it was Susan’s own romantic mistakes that helped her see where Hallie was going wrong with her own choices. The budding romance between Susan-as-Hallie and Hardeep could’ve been somewhat creepy, but I like how McNicoll makes it clear that Susan’s attraction to Hardeep is just because of how good he’d be with Hallie, and not for her own purposes.

The case around the SUV’s design defect got frustrating at times, and I wish that subplot had a more definitive resolution than it did. But overall, I thought the book’s themes of empathy and compassion were strong, and well-done.

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Thank you to Dundurn for an advance reading coy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Sadie, Courtney Summers

34810320Sadie is fantastic. The titular character is a nineteen year old woman who goes on a road trip to track down and kill the man who murdered her thirteen year old sister. As someone who’s super close to my own younger sister, I loved Sadie from the start, and could sympathize with her quest all the way.

I particularly loved that Sadie was both a badass and totally vulnerable. As we learn more about her and her sister’s childhood, we come to realize why she’d been so protective of Mattie, to the point that she was often more of a mother figure than a sister. We also come to realize why she’s so wary of men, and why the fight part of her flight-or-flight response is so quick to be unleashed.

The story is told alternately in Sadie’s POV and through a podcast about her disappearance. I really liked this approach, as it kept the story moving very quickly. I also loved seeing how things unfold through Sadie’s eyes, and how we later see a different interpretation (or in some cases, a full-on re-packaging of the truth) with the people interviewed in the podcast. It reminds us that the truth is never neutral, and that whatever actually happens in real-life is always going to be remembered through a particular lens. For example, I like how Sadie’s protectiveness for her sister was seen a bit too possessive by her mother and grandmother, and how no matter how sympathetic we are to Sadie, this inevitably makes us question Sadie’s motives.

Finally, I liked that Sadie stuttered, and that this stutter was maintained throughout the entire novel. While I’ve read at least one novel where the heroine stuttered under stress, I don’t think I’ve read one before where the heroine stuttered all the time. I like that Sadie herself never let it hold her back, but that the author was realistic in her portrayal of how other people can be jerks about that kind of thing.

I’m not super keen on the ending, but that’s probably more a testament to how invested I’d become in Sadie and her story. My brain admits that the ending is pretty realistic, my heart wishes there had been more.

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Thank you to Raincoast Books for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.