Review | Cat’s Got Your Heart, by Jem Zero

CatsGotYourHeartWith a title like Cat’s Got Your Heart, I admit that I expected a romance that was pure fluff and joy. The novel does deliver on the fluff — Harinder and Jericho’s romance is really sweet, and made me go “awww” at several places. But it’s the kind of fluff that’s covered with spikes, and requires quite a bit of hard work and emotional maturing on the characters’ parts to achieve.

The enemies to lovers trope is often touch and go for me, and Harinder begins as the type of jerk hero I usually can’t stand. He’s abrasive, grouchy, and outright unpleasant to all the pet store customers for no discernible reason. This kind of hero usually takes me a while to warm up to, and usually only when they reveal their secret soft side.

Instead, Harinder wins me over almost immediately. His abrasiveness stems from a deep, at times obsessive, concern for animals, and his utmost revulsion to the possibility of adopting out one of his animals to a home that won’t give it proper care. His insta-hate with Jericho isn’t the usual aimless snark that usually turns me off this trope, but rather a hilarious, at times absurd, power struggle over the fate of a cat named Dumpling.

The story in a nutshell: Jericho wants to adopt Dumpling; Harinder doubts Jericho’s ability to care for her, and so devises a series of requirements to discourage the other man. It turns out Jericho is lonely, and actually enjoys Harinder’s company, so he keeps coming back to the pet store. And when Harinder is kicked out of his apartment, Jericho offers him a place to stay, and they start to move past each other’s barriers. The thing is, Jericho still hasn’t told Harinder that his desire for Dumpling isn’t to have a pet of his own, but rather to gift the cat to his sister (he lost his sister’s cat, so Dumpling is an apology / replacement). And like any animal lover with experience in adoptions, Harinder is leery of people who give animals as gifts. (Providing an animal with a forever home is too much of a long-term commitment to treat lightly. Many animals who are given as gifts, without first discussing it with the recipient, end up being returned, which sucks for the animal.) So while Dumpling herself isn’t as prominent in the story as I’d hoped, her presence drives much of the action, which I loved.

I love how the author subverts the usual grouchy/sunshine trope. Harinder’s a grouch, but for the most sunshiney of reasons. And Jericho is really sweet and cheerful, but he’s actually really guarded, and struggles to deal with intense feelings. The author manages to reveal fluff and joy in the prickliest of encounters, and I love seeing the characters slowly come to terms with their feelings.

I also love that Jericho is an albino Black gay man, and that Harinder’s an Indian trans man. I’ve never seen those kinds of heroes in romance before, so I hope that any romance readers who may find themselves represented in these characters find this book, and see these characters as romantic leads. I can’t speak for the representation in this book, except for one scene where Harinder is bullied by racists who speak fake Spanish (they mistakenly assume Harinder is Mexican) — that was well-done, and felt true-to-life.

Some things in the novel did fall flat for me, though I admit these are mostly personal views that may not bother other readers. First, Harinder and Jericho are really messy (Jericho gets ferret pee on his Ninja Turtles hoodie and leaves it in the laundry basket for three weeks and counting; Harinder keeps animal cages clean but otherwise leaves the store grimy). The author includes a lot of details that make the characters and their environments feel real, and I can imagine men in their early 20s being that messy, but it left too much of a gritty feel for me to enjoy the sexytimes. The characters also “wail” and “keen” during sex, and while I’m all for noisy sex, those particular sounds did take me out of the mood, especially when we also hear Dumpling “wail” in a later scene. Jericho’s reunion with his sister at the end felt stilted — she just sounds really formal, which made me feel the distance between them more than the closeness. And finally, the location of Harinder’s final piercing is meant to be sexy, but just sounds really painful to me.

Overall, Cat’s Got Your Heart is a sweet and sour kind of book, fluff wrapped up in spikes. Harinder and Jericho’s happy endings are hard-won, and well worth the ride. Above all, their romance begins with a battle of wills over a fluffy kitty named Dumpling — how adorable is that?

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Thanks to the author for an egalley in exchange for an honest review.

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