27 October 2009

Fat Cat (Robin Brande)

Long, long ago - spring of '71, or thereabouts - I stopped off at the bookstore on my home from school one Monday afternoon, as I so often did, and was pleasantly surprised to find new paperback editions of two books I'd enjoyed at the library: When Worlds Collide, by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer, and its sequel, After Worlds Collide. (Much better than the movie, of course!) Fortunately, I had a couple dollars in my pocket*, and was able to take them both home with me. I read When... that evening, and After... the next day. And then on Wednesday I reread After..., and on Thursday I reread When... - and I don't think I've ever read another book twice so close together.

Until a couple years ago, that is, when I read a book I liked so much that when I got to the bottom of the last page, I didn't even put the book down; I flipped straight back to the first page and read it again. That book was Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature, by Robin Brande, and I kept thinking that I really ought to write some sort of review of it, since I liked it so much. But I really, really hate writing book reviews, so....

Then last weekend the library's copy of Fat Cat, Brande's second book, finally arrived. I got it at once, expecting a good read, and wasn't disappointed.

The book begins, presumably, on the first day of school; at any rate, it's the first day of Special Topics in Research Science. Mr Fizer has a stack of pictures, torn out of National Geographic and other magazines, and each student in the class will go up and, without looking, draw a picture from the stack. The picture selected will provide the topic for that student's research project.

Catherine "Cat" Locke is hoping for a picture of some sort of insects, so that she can build on the fig wasp project she'd done over the summer. But when she gets back to her seat and looks at the picture, she sees a group of Homo erectus - three males and a female - defending a carcass from a pack of hyenas. At first she's at a total loss for what to do, but then:
When I opened my eyes again, there was the woman's butt. And the rest of the woman. And for some reason, it occurred to me in that moment that she was actually kind of cool in her prehistoric way - strong, determined-looking, ready to haul off and hurl that rock while the guys just shouted and looked concerned.

And she was thin. Not emaciated, fashion-model thin, but that good muscular thin like you see on women athletes. She looked like she could run and hunt and fight just as well as the men - maybe even better.

And that's when I realized: I wanted to be her.

To look like her, rather, because Cat isn't thin and fit. Quite the opposite, in fact - she's had the nickname "Fat Cat" for several years now. And so her research project is going to be an attempt at living a pseudo-erectus lifestyle, eating only what H erectus ate (no processed foods) and avoiding as much as possible, with due regard to safety and health, use of technology (walking instead of riding in a car, using the stairs instead of the lift).

But after a few months, between the exercise and the dietary change Cat is no longer fat. In fact, she's turning into a pretty hot chick. And now she has to deal with the boys who are moving in on her - including the former best friend who betrayed her years ago....

I liked the whole concept of Cat's research project. In addition to the physical changes, she has to deal with the idea of suddenly becoming someone boys are interested in, and the resulting changes in her life - first date, first kiss, &c. She has her friend Amanda to help, but the girls have no idea of how the male mind works. (Not that the boys are any better at dealing with the female mind.) So it's a learning experience for all concerned....

Brande says that her next book will be a romantic comedy involving quantum physics and string theory. I'm looking forward to reading that one, too.

Fat Cat, by Robin Brande. Alfred A Knopf, 2009. Young adult. Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, of course - though buying through IndieBound or from your local independent bookseller is highly recommended!

* The average paperback was what, 75 cents in 1971? Or were they still 60 cents?

1 comment:

Buck said...

Excellent review, thanks for this!