A Clowder of Cats

Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer

Publication Date: November 19, 2019

Summary from NetGalley:

How much does the internet know about YOU? A thought-provoking near future YA thriller that could not be more timely as it explores issues of online privacy, artificial intelligence, and the power and perils of social networks.

Because her mom is always on the move, Steph hasn’t lived anyplace longer than six months. Her only constant is an online community called CatNet—a social media site where users upload cat pictures—a place she knows she is welcome. What Steph doesn’t know is that the admin of the site, CheshireCat, is a sentient A.I.

When a threat from Steph’s past catches up to her and CheshireCat’s existence is discovered by outsiders, it’s up to Steph and her friends, both online and IRL, to save her.

Catfishing on CatNet is a surprising, heartfelt near-future YA thriller by award-winning author Naomi Kritzer, whose short story “Cat Pictures Please” won the Hugo Award and Locus Award and was a finalist for the Nebula.

ARC provided by Tor Teen via NetGalley for an honest review.

I really enjoyed this book, though I wish it had been a bit darker. I was expecting it to be a bit more cautionary about the perils of the internet, but it was still a solid read that was fun at times.

Steph was a great character. I found myself really sympathizing with her nomadic lifestyle, and how lonely she felt because of it. She had a pretty good relationship with her mother, even with the constant moving and paranoia that her mother exhibited most of the time. There is a section where Steph begins to doubt the story her mother always told about her father, and her wondering if it was all her mother’s imagination. But then the truth starts to come out and Steph steps up to protect herself and others from her father.

I really liked CheshireCat as well. They were such a charming and amazingly nice AI. Even when they were spying on everyone and maybe pushing the boundaries of do no harm just a bit. They also had a pretty good sense of humor for an AI. I especially appreciated that they liked to look at funny cat pictures.

Steph’s online friends were also fun and pretty diverse. I enjoyed the fact that they eventually all met up in real life as well. But some of the banter on line was interesting and fun. They were also so supportive of Steph as she found out the truth about her life and her father.

Rachel was also a good character. I totally understood Steph’s reluctance to befriend her, because her mother would just up and move them soon. But Rachel was determined to become her friend and help her out when things got rough. I liked the chemistry between them, but I think the story could have been just as good without the budding romance aspect.

The thing I really liked about this book though was the setting. It was set in a not too distant future that felt like a real possibility. Self driving cars and service robots are the norm, and play into the story as well. I liked that they had a robot teaching them sex education, but not being programed to answer some of the more important questions teens have about sex and sexuality. The plot was pretty fast moving and the mystery aspect of it was well done. I really thought for awhile that Steph’s mom was just being paranoid. The truth of why her father was looking for them was a bit scary as well.

This was a fun and interesting read. The setting is very well done as is the plot. The characters could have been a bit more developed, but for a short book you get a good enough sense of them.

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