Friday, June 28, 2013

Review: Cat Girl's Day Off by Kimberly Pauley

Cat Girl's Day OffDescription: Natalie Ng’s little sister is a super-genius with a chameleon-like ability to disappear. Her older sister has three Class A Talents, including being a human lie detector. Her mom has laser vision and has one of the highest IQs ever. Her dad’s Talent is so complex even the Bureau of Extra-Sensory Regulation and Management (BERM) hardly knows what to classify him as.

And Nat? She can talk to cats.

The whole talking-to-cats thing is something she tries very hard to hide, except with her best friends Oscar (a celebrity-addicted gossip hound) and Melly (a wannabe actress). When Oscar shows her a viral Internet video featuring a famous blogger being attacked by her own cat, Nat realizes what’s really going on…and it’s not funny.

Stats: Young Adult Fantasy, 334 pages, First Published by Tu Books, April 2012.

My Rating: 1 Star

The best way I can describe my experience with Cat Girl's Day Off would be that it was like having a bad day. A bad day is when you wake up late, drop your toothbrush on the bathroom floor, can't find the car keys, see some young kid screaming in the grocery store, and don't get the last piece of pizza at dinner. Sure, if any of these individual moments happened on a perfectly normal day it wouldn't really matter overall, but on a bad day it's the way the little things add up and build upon each other that makes it so bad.

With Cat Girl's Day Off the overall picture is actually very pretty. The main character, Natalie Ng, is so likeable that I was rooting for her almost instantly. Her world of superpowers being less-than super is also just a really great concept for a YA novel. The way Natalie's cat communication abilities played into her personality and the plot worked very well. 

Something else I would really praise the book for is the attention paid to the social environment of teenagers. The book acknowledges the popular use of blogging, tweeting, and characters actually calling each other without making it feel like a gimmick or dating itself with references that won't work a year from now. Here we get that acknowledgement as well as incorporation in a natural way that makes the story better for it. 

I would actually compare this book to something like the Mediator series with Shadowland or The Ghost and the Goth books. You have a main character that has this special ability, only here it's cats instead of ghosts, they are then put into a situation where they have to use their secret gift to try and get to the bottom of whatever unnatural event has presented itself at their front door. They are the only one who can help, but they don't necessarily want to stick their neck out. 

Unfortunately, although I am a fan of these sort of novels where Cat Girl's Day Off goes wrong is that it just doesn't give you enough. It needed more world building, it needed more character building, it needed more urgency, it needed some serious editing, and it needed to be a series instead of a stand alone.

Where the book starts off is very promising. We are introduced to Natalie and her family dynamic of being the middle child. She's also half-Chinese, which automaticly earns diversity points and a high five. We then get introduced to her friends Oscar, who is gay/Asian, another high five, and Melly who both seem like very interesting companions. All is going well until the mystery kicks in and every character (aside from Natalie) becomes unrealistic and unbearable. This is where the bad day started.

The characters of Melly and Oscar start off pretty good and go down hill fast. Oscar and Melly just don't seem like they're really Natalie's friends. They treat her like a play thing and it's a little condescending the way they act around her. There was never a moment where it seemed like this group even had anything in common. I never understood why she hung out with them, which is a fatal flaw considering most of the book is based around their friendship.

Oscar took the brunt of my dislike. He's a lot like Jack from Will and Grace, except not over-the-top funny. There were a lot of smaller moments centred around Oscar that left me wondering what the author was trying to accomplish with this guy. And then there's Melly who was almost completely defined by her looks. Any mention of her centred around how pretty she is or how she's using her attractiveness to get something.

This happened on page 40, which was possibly the worst moment in the entire book. Melly is about to use her feminine wiles to distract this guy at the front desk of a hotel so Oscar and Natalie can sneak into the elevator to get to one of the rooms. So, Melly has gone up to this guy who is older then herself with the intent of heavily flirting with him, even though she's only sixteen. This didn't bother me because it's been done before and keeps the plot moving. However, then our Natalie turns around in the middle of her sneaking to make the point that this guy is a "Dirty old man" because he's smiling and laughing at the attention. This bothers Natalie because she says it's clear Melly "doesn't look a day over sixteen". This is followed up on page 43, with "Melly still has that perv talking to her up at the desk". These two quotes bothered me. It bothered me to the point of complete rage... actually on behalf of the guy in this situation.

I'll be the first person to point out when some dude is acting creepy or pervy, screw those guys, but let's establish something here. He is not going up to Melly and initiating this sort of behaviour. As far as Natalie or the reader knows he is not touching her, grabbing her, harassing her, demeaning her, acting suggestively towards her, or in any way behaving inappropriately. All anyone sees him doing is smiling and laughing which makes him a both a "dirty old man" and a "perv". This guy was instantly vilified in a way that wasn't at all necessary in the story. It's true that guys should be respectful, but us girls should be expected to do the same, and I did not like the message this was sending about how it was totally fine for her to flirt with him with the intent to manipulate him, but not fine that he responded to it with anything less than "You shall not pass!". 

Then there were the complete gaps in logic at the climax of the story with unrealistic character behaviour involving a hostage situation and with even more unrealistic excuses in order to drive the plot forward including the way Natalie's older sister plays role in the mystery. (To view spoilers on some specifics of what bothered me, you can check out those in my GR review.)

On top of all that there would also be times when characters would be talking about the present, but using past tense. An example being when Natalie says on page 102 "I really hated that guy" when I believe she's talking about how much she hates him in that moment.  There were also sometimes words that were a letter off, like on page 100, "I snitched some of the pages". Or the way she says that her crush has the "same eyelashes" as his mother. Or the use of little sayings in place of swear words. "monkey poo" and "flagpole sitter" being two examples. Or how the title never plays a  part in the book. Day off from what?! 

All together this made Cat Girl's Day Off into a painful read that I only finished out of the bazaar hope that things would get better. Throughout the entire story I never lost hope that it might win me back because the potential was there! 

To get back to something I said above (before I burst into flames), I mentioned how I think this should have been a series. This may seem confusing since I didn't like the book, but when you look at the Mediator by Meg Cabot as a comparison it starts to make a lot more sense. The Mediator series wouldn't have worked as a stand alone because if Cabot had to tie everything up in a nice little bow at the end of Shadowland that story wouldn't have been as good. By opening it up to be a series it left the story with somewhere to go. Cat Girl's Day Off could have benefited from that. Instead we get the most unearned Happily Ever After that I've seen in a while.

I know that there will be plenty of people who will love this book, from the description I really did think I would be one of them, but even now I can see how this would still be enjoyable for some people. However, my experience did not do the concept justice. I really wish this could have gone better or maybe, more honestly, that I had just avoided it altogether.

SPECIAL NOTE: If you want a preview of the book you can read the first three chapters online on Pauley's website.  

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