*Note: Smith Publicity provided me with an Advanced Reading Copy of Alice the Cat to facilitate this review.*
Middle schooler Tess recently lost her mother to cancer, and feels completely alone in this world, except for her cat Alice.
Her father has become a “zombie” since the passing of her mother, and barely even looks at Tess anymore. And then her cat starts acting strangely.
In her need to escape her life and her feelings, Tess runs away from home. But instead of going far, she, and Alice, are drawn to a nearby abandoned house. There the pair encounter a ghostly entity that desperately wants a cat for the afterlife, and it has its heart set on Alice.
The author, Tim Cummings, based this story on events from his own life. Alice the Cat is emotional and humorous, and emphasizes the importance of community in the face of adversity, allowing yourself to feel grief, and finding the magic in your own life, according to a release from the Smith Publicity.
“The incident with the cat comes from real life. I lost my mom to cancer when I was 15, and in the wake of her death, the family cat, with whom she was very close, started acting strangely, including suicide attempts,” Cummings shared in an email.
“I started the book with that incident, not sure what would happen after that… but the rest of it came flooding in, a deluge, as if these characters and their stories were waiting patiently for the right scribe to sit down, at which point they rushed in and took over my body or something. Very Ouija-esque!”
This story quickly pulled me in and enveloped me. The writing was smooth and easy, and the characters were perfect, and perfectly flawed.
The depiction of Tess — her anger, her grief, her need to escape — felt so real. I can’t imagine losing a parent as a not-quite-teenager, but the emotions and actions of Tess just seem exactly right for her situation.
According to the author, Alice the Cat explores the magic and mayhem that can happen in your own backyard. “Kids’ books are rife with epic castles, ethereal worlds, enchanted forests, and magical beings and creatures galore. This book wants to explore how much magic and strangeness can take place in prosaic places like a playroom in an abandoned house, an animal hospital, a police station, an old lady’s living room, and an emotional breakdown on a kitchen floor,” he said.
“I love the way so many adults read YA (young adult) and MG (middle grade). I think many of us carry a lot of trauma from that time, and reading books for this age group opens a portal that allows us to take our older, wiser selves back to these younger selves and have a conversation. So many emotional, psychological, and hormonal changes are taking place during that seminal time in our lives, and that’s what I’m attempting to tap into. Something primordial and corporeal. Something embodied, visceral.”
As a Young Adult fiction reader myself, I loved the supernatural aspect of this story, as well as the ‘just because you’re not friends doesn’t mean you have to be enemies’ themes of this book. This Young Adult piece of fiction works on every level.
“I earned my MFA in Writing for Young People (or ‘bildungsroman’) from Antioch University, and with this book, well, I wanted to challenge many of the tropes and traps of literature for kids,” Cummings shared with me.
“This genre is always under intense scrutiny with the intensity of middle-grade gatekeepers and librarians and parents and teachers. I wanted to experiment with ways to crack that open, push the envelope, feel free to explore. And when I wrote this book, it was 100% for me. Something I desperately needed to write for myself. It wasn’t something I thought would put me on the map in any significant way. I never even had any plans on publishing it. The fact that it got published is still a kind of amazing accident. And I’m just riding that rollercoaster currently. It’s a lot of ups and downs. So many feelings!”
Alice the Cat will appeal to Young Adult fiction readers, especially those with an interest in the mystical, family drama, teen self-awareness, and coming to terms with grief.
Read more about Tim Cummings and Alice the Cat on his writer website.