Because her mother is always on the move, sixteen-year-old Steph hasn’t lived anywhere longer than six months. Her only constant is an online community called CatNet, a social media site where users upload cat pictures and the admin is CheshireCat, a sentient AI. When a threat from Steph’s past catches up to her and CheshireCat’s existence is discovered, it’s up to Steph and her friends to save them. You can also check out this title as eBook on OverDrive/Libby.
Late last year, as I was maintaining and updating my personal spreadsheet of book award winners and finalists (detailed in this blog post), one book kept catching my attention: “Catfishing on CatNet.” It won an Edgar Award, a Minnesota Book Award, a Lodestar Award, and was a finalist or nominee for others. What could that title possibly mean, I wondered? I like cats, I thought. Maybe there were cats in it. The only solution was to read the book.
What I found was a reading experience that was funny, tender, silly and nail-bitingly suspenseful in turn. My instincts were not totally wrong: there are cats. At least, there’s a sentient AI named CheshireCat who loves cat pictures and takes them as payment for running their own social media site called CatNet, where the users are personally sorted into friend groups called Clowders (a term for a group of cats).
This is where sixteen-year-old Steph feels most understood. For her whole life she’s been pulled from one location to another, never in one place long enough to make friends and never anywhere long enough for it to feel like home.
This is because her father is a scary, abusive man, and will stop at nothing to find her and her mother. While Steph’s online life is extremely restricted, she can be anonymous on CatNet, but show her real self and form bonds with the rest of her Clowder.
Then Steph’s worlds collide in a dangerous way. CheshireCat is discovered to be an AI — not a person, as the Clowder thought – because of Steph’s desire to know the truth about her childhood. It turns out, the truth is worse than her mother told her, and now her father is out to find her, and CheshireCat is in danger of being deleted. Steph and her friends must join forces across the country to save their group from harm.
It’s an action-packed, robot-filled, cat-tinged but realistic story that was just what I needed.
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