Saturday, February 11, 2023

Today's read... Alice the Cat by Tim Cummings

I found today's read while browsing through Netgalley's lists and was intrigued by the cover and, especially, the blurb. I'm not going to say much more because this one turned out to be quite different than I expected.

by Tim Cummings
Fitzroy Books
Young Adult Fantasy
186 pages

MAY 23rd!!!

On the verge of her thirteenth birthday, Tess’s life is falling apart. Her mother is dead. Her father is like a zombie. And now her beloved cat, Alice, has started rushing into the street when cars go by, trying to get run over. The only thing Tess can think of that might help? Running away. As she ventures from home, Tess stumbles upon a crew of manga-loving goth kids hiding out in the local haunted house performing sĂ©ances. There, she discovers that the house’s ghostly entity desperately wants a cat to care for in the afterlife, and it has its sights set on Alice. With the help of an unexpected friend and the brilliant, adorkable kid who has a huge crush on her, Tess will do whatever it takes to save Alice the cat, help the ghost, heal her dad, and survive the summer in one piece.



Messy on the outside and emotion mixed with thought in the middle.

Almost-thirteen-year-old Tess is doing her best to cope after the sudden death of her mother due to cancer, but with her father transformed into a zombie and no one to talk to, it's proving more than tough. When she comes home from school to find that her cat jumped into the middle of the street in an attempt to commit suicide, which made her neighbor run into the tree in their front yard...which then, crashed into the middle of the street and the cat, Alice, then ran off...a chaotic and crazy string of events goes into play. Soon, Tess is chasing time against a ghost and the life of her cat...and maybe, her grief, too.

When I read the blurb, I expected this one to head more in a paranormal adventure direction. This, however, is a tale of grief and dealing with loss. And it's chaotic, which adds a new dimension to keep it more than interesting and...well, chaotic. Tess's home life is a mess in the sense that her father has collapsed into a blackhole, not even bothering to run his business since the loss of her mom. This leaves Tess alone to deal with everything, and at twelve-years, she's in over her head. The cat, Alice, is the last string holding her together. There's a lot going on, and this hits very serious themes as well as emotions.

Tess is in a frantic, confused battle to handle everything, and this is mirrored in the world around her. She has two 'friends', who are all-over-the-place on the mental and behavioral end. One, who has seizures and is claimed to have mental problems (although he seemed more down-to-earth than other characters) and another, who has a super-inflated desire to act out scenes and characters. The three together are like Bonnie-and-Clyde to middle grade extreme...just without the hard crime. Then, there's the ghostly side, which includes a group of odd goths and a ghost, which plays a role but not to the lengths I thought it would. It creates a crazy and quick-paced plot. But again, this all centers around Tess's own dealings with the loss of her mother.

The plot runs quick and draws in with Tess's slightly odd-ball personality. While this will speak to middle graders, I don't see it as completely in their ballpark due to the depth and true issues driving the tale. This hits grief hard and demands to be digested in every way. Older readers will be much more able to handle this, where I'm afraid it might be a bit much for the younger audience to truly absorb or even begin to embrace. It's well-written, brings points completely home, and the insanity makes the difficult aspects really sit. I can recommend this one and found it to be quite the ride.

And here he is...

Tim Cummings has a distinct memory of sitting at a picnic table beneath a colossal oak in his backyard in Port Jefferson, New York, scribbling furiously beneath a sunny sky in a classic marbled Composition notebook. He was incredibly young, maybe four years old; this was before preschool. And in his mind, even though he could not yet even form written words or sentences, he was definitely inscribing his first novel. Weird.
That love of words, of writing, manifested soon thereafter in a lifelong obsession with books and reading. Every possible book written for children—by Beverly Cleary, Ruth Chew, Virginia Hamilton, Roald Dahl, E.B. White, Judy Blume, Madeleine L’ Engle, Mildred D. Taylor, the Choose Your Own Adventure books—was deftly devoured and re-devoured throughout his childhood and teenage years.
A professional performer since childhood, Tim attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and earned his BFA in Acting. He has worked steadily in theatre, film, television, commercials, dance, voice-over, animation, and new media since. He is the recipient of three LA Drama Critics Circle Awards for his work on the stages of Los Angeles.
Never ceasing in his passion for reading and writing, however, he earned his MFA in Writing for Young People from Antioch University Los Angeles. Recent publications include F(r)iction, Scare Street, Lunch Ticket, Meow Meow Pow Pow, From Whispers to Roars, and Critical Read, for which he won their ‘Origins’ essay contest and also received a Pushcart Prize nomination for his essay, “You Have Changed Me Forever.” A regular contributor at Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB), he writes features, reviews, and interviews. He runs several writing workshops per year, does manuscript consulting, and individual writing coaching. Tim is represented by Charlie Olsen at Inkwell Management.


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