Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fat Cat by Robin Brande

Happy Spring!

Robin Brande is one of my favorite new young adult authors. She writes easy to read novels about teenagers who love science (not science fiction.) Brande’s characters are funny and very human. Her work is provocative and yet tame enough for younger readers. After reviewing Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature, I was eager to read Brande’s second novel, Fat Cat, which came out last fall to  positive reviews.

Cat’s science project is herself. In an attempt to recreate the early hominid lifestyle, Cat forswears all processed food, makeup, technology (except for homework) and transportation. Eating well and walking everywhere, Cat drops to a healthier weight, her skin clears up and she feels more energetic and self-confident. Guys start noticing her, but not everything works out as she planned. It's a cool project but is it good science?

I loved how the narrative teaches teens about healthy choices without sounding preachy. It was great to see a "fat girl loses weight and gets the guys" story that wasn't just about superficial appearances and dieting. Friendships, first romances and academic rivalry were well portrayed. My only criticism was that Cat’s best friend, a published teen poet who looks like a model, was too good to be true. The other characters were more realistic, especially Cat. The central love story was about a girl learning to appreciate herself. Fat Cat would be a good choice for a precocious tween reader who isn't ready for the edgier elements of most young adult fiction.

Here’s my 12-year-old daughter’s review of Fat Cat:

Fat Cat was a very entertaining read. I absolutely could not put this book down! It was not exactly a suspenseful book, but it was a laugh-out-loud funny. At first, I could not really relate to the protagonist, Cat, with her junk-food addiction and her need to cover herself up in baggy clothes and makeup. I like books better that don’t focus mainly on appearances. I kind of forgot Cat was doing her project for the Science Fair and not just as a diet. However, I soon grew to like the character more with her ironic and funny views of many situations and her creativity. The book, overall, was refreshingly realistic and humorous. I liked it very much.

Reviewers' Disclaimer: we borrowed Fat Cat from YA author Maria Padian, who received the ARC from their publisher, Knopf.

Book Watch: Paul Doiron gave a wonderful reading of his literary suspense novel, The Poacher's Son, at Gulf of Maine Books. I bought 2 signed copies of his debut novel for gifts. Go hear him read if you have the chance; he's a great story teller and totally captures Maine. Book tour details are on his website.

Paul Doiron and Sarah Laurence, photo by Maria Padian

Blog Watch: congratulations to Barrie Summy on the release of her third book! A Cuban in London and Tricia@Talespinning both blogged about the creative writing process.


David Cranmer said...

Your timing is perfect. I'm looking for a novel (for a friend who is at that targeted age) and he is also a big science fan. The Robin Brande book sounds spot on. Thanks Sarah.

Maria Padian said...

I also love Robin Brande's humor! Both Fat Cat and Evolution are laugh-out-loud funny at times, while taking on serious topics in a non-preachy way.
And, I just lost 2 days of my life reading The Poacher's Son, which I couldn't put down! LOVE the way Paul writes about the Maine woods.

tina said...

Laugh out loud says it all. What fun for teens!

A Cuban In London said...

Thanks for the link, Sarah.

I loved your review. It's so difficult to write about teenagers without being preachy. And I liked the fact that the author (according to your review) got the balance right with the main character. Oftentimes, I see adolescents in the same situation as Cat's being patronised or ostracised, with very little in between.

Off topic, but on topic (ain't I contradictory?), I notice that your daughter has been contributing more to your blog. I was planning to follow your example, nick your idea and get my son, who's 12, to start writing reviews. Probably my daughter will want to follow suit. She's only nine, although she reads voraciously. Is there any kind of sibling rivalry between your children when it comes to writing reviews? Do they all get the same opportunities? Initially I would experiment with a monthly book review by my son and that would train him to undertake more serious assignments in the near future (he's just been made ambassador at his school and he doesn't shy from responsibilities) but I don't know if presenting that opportunity to a 12-year-old is a sound idea.

Ahhh... sorry, too long a comment. Back to your post. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks.

Greetings from London.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I so love your daughter's book reviews. I prefer to give books as presents to my god-daughters and, as they are the same age as your daughter, her reviews are especially helpful!

Sarah Laurence said...

David, that sounds like a good match. My daughter loves science and competes in the Science Olympiad.

Maria, thanks for adding your endorsement of these talented authors and for introducing me to them. Yes, The Poacher’s Son is hard to put down.

Tina, humor is a great way to reach teens.

ACIL, what’s different about Fat Cat is that the obese girl has good friends who like her for what she is even before she loses weight. She is also cruelly teased. It feels realistic. There is no sibling rivalry between my kids over book reviews. My 15-year-old son has no desire to participate, although he likes reading and is planning to take The Poacher’s Son on a 7-week canoe trip this summer. The only review he’s done with his sister was of Charlotte Agell’s Shift (link in my sidebar). I’d love if he participated more, but I’d never push it. Also, I review and write YA novels that are more likely to appeal to my daughter. She loves participating when she has time with all her schoolwork. It might work best to post around your son’s schedule, rather than yours, based on his time and enthusiasm. I’m looking forward to it! BTW, I love your long comments as you can tell from my long replies.

Pamela, you are an excellent god-mother! My taste in young adult fiction is towards the more literary end of the spectrum, since that’s what I write. I also select new release books to share on my blog that are more likely to have cross-over appeal to adults. My daughter is more into paranormal fiction and got me to read/review Twilight and A Great and Terrible Beauty, both of which I enjoyed. I like how we broaden each other’s reading horizons. I’m glad to hear that our reviews are helpful to you because we really enjoy doing them together. The positive feedback encourage her, thank you!

Elizabeth said...

Loved your daughter's thoughtful review of the book.
Robin Brande sounds most interesting.
Reading the other comments, I really think it is an excellent idea for tweens and teens to review the books they have read. When I was a teacher, I had the students write 'book letters' telling about what they had read.
A good way for them to share their ideas.

Sarah Laurence said...

Elizabeth, I bet you were a wonderful teacher.

TBM said...

Ah, this does sound like one Roxi and I would like. And I always enjoy your mother and daughter reviews :-)

Lovely pic of you too!

troutbirder said...

Not wanting to overgeneralize but anything that helps link early teen girls and science is a plus. It was a rare sight in high school classrooms. Later when I taught geography & history in a middle school, the girls liked to mention how much they hated science

Kelly H-Y said...

Wonderful review!

Sarah Laurence said...

JAPRA, I think you two will enjoy Fat Cat as much as we did.

Troutbirder, I was considered odd for loving science so much back in the 80’s. These days more girls are into science. It’s one of my daughter’s favorite subjects, and she’s not alone. It is challenging so books that make science sound fun for kids are always needed.

Kelly, thanks.

Rose said...

I don't know if I've told you this before, Sarah, but I wish your blog had been around years ago when I was teaching freshman English. I was always looking for some good YA novels for my reluctant readers. "Fat Cat" sounds like one the girls would have enjoyed. Back when I started teaching, "My Darling, My Hamburger" was a popular choice among my students, which tells you how long ago that was:)

☆sapphire said...

Hi Sarah

Thank you for the two beautiful reviews! Your daughter is amazing! I think fatness is an interesting motif. In "Precious"(I've not read the original, though), fatness is not a main theme but it seems to be an inseparable part of her problem. I love "Laugh out loud" !

cynthia newberry martin said...

Are those French tulips? Beautiful. So many writers I know are artists as well, but I'm just able to squeeze out enough creativity for writing : )

I so enjoy the combination of your and your daughter's reviews.

And yes, a wonderful photo of you and Paul in the bookstore.

Sarah Laurence said...

Rose, thank you! I grew up with My Darling, My Hamburger and the Judy Bloom books. YA has come a long way since then.

Sapphire, I’m sorry to have missed Precious. Obesity has become a real problem here. The Japanese diet is healthier, as long as it doesn’t include American chain food!

Cynthia, Henry bought me those tulips so I’m not sure what variety they are beyond Hannaford’s! I haven’t been doing any art beyond photography in a while, but I plan to switch to watercolors soon. It’s the best excuse to enjoy the summer months.

Bee said...

I'm ordering this one right now! My 12 year old really needs some new books, and your daughter's review was the clincher.

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, enjoy!

Angie Muresan said...

Your daughter is a great reviewer and I write down the titles of the books she recommends and purchase them for my son and nieces. Is she going to get her own blog soon?

Barrie said...

You're right, Sarah! Fat Cat sounds right up my alley! And THANK YOU for the congratulations!

Sarah Laurence said...

Angie, my daughter will be pleased to hear that you follow her reviews. She won’t be blogging on her own anytime soon. I try to minimize my children’s exposure to the internet. I’m happy that my daughter spends her free time reading novels, playing piano and writing her own stories.

Barrie, I’d love to hear your reaction to Brande. Best of luck with your new release!