1985 Honor: One-Eyed Cat (and a guilty conscience)

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 3/5

One-Eyed Cat, the 1985 Newbery Honor winner, explores how the feelings of guilt and anxiety can overtake a young child’s life. In Paula Fox’s novel, young Ned secretly plays with a gun in the middle of night, intent on having fun with his new birthday present that his father confiscated from him. Things don’t go as planned, though, and he shoots at a moving shadow. When a one-eyed cat shows up at his barn the next week, Ned knows that he has done something terrible that he will have to live with for the rest of his life.

While the plot never really moves along at a quick pace, the internal dialogue in Ned’s head provides some interesting insight into what it means to have to keep a constant secret of one of your worst mistakes from your own family. The novel internalizes his struggle and the feelings associated with the traumatic event he went through the night he shot the cat, and shows how his past actions influence the relationships he has with others.

Because of the subject matter, I found this book to be a depressing read. While, ultimately, the family ends up uniting at the end and Ned owns up to his terrible deed, don’t go into this book looking for a lighthearted read and cute animal bonding. The main character’s angst consumes the entirety of the book, making it rather hard to keep turning the pages when you know things will continually get worse for the main character in such a realistic  fashion. Other topics are tackled, as well, including Ned’s mother who is suffering from arthritis and the death of a family friend.

I’d recommend One-Eyed Cat to anyone who loves stories about animals bonding with humans over traumatic events and to those who are looking for a novel that focuses on the psychological effects of a guilty conscience.

1964: It’s Like This, Cat (every feline wants to be named Cat)

VERDICT: Treasure? 

Laurinda’s Rating: 3/5

In the 1964 Newbery Medal Winner, Dave adopts a cat from a local hoarder cat lady. He takes the feline, which he creatively names Cat, on his many adventures around New York City. Cat facilitates his interactions with a number of interesting people. Tom, for example, picks the lock on a basement locker to release the hapless Cat; Tom is later caught returning some items he liberated on a dare. Dave and Tom’s friendship forms one of the few coherent subplots in It’s Like This, Cat.

Although the characters are congenial, the book is light on plot. Dave does work through some common adolescent issues, particular in how he interacts with his father. Through Tom’s interaction with Dave’s father, as well as in contrast to Tom’s own father, Dave comes to see the helpful, generous side of his father. Most of the story, however, is just Dave gallivanting around, taking the subway to New York landmarks like Coney Island.

Altogether, this Newbery entry is an atmospheric but forgettable one. I cautiously recommend it to people with a great love of New York City, because it has great descriptions of the early 1960’s life of the city. It might also be of interest to cat lovers because of Cat’s adventures, though there is a scene where a kitten dies. However, there are both stronger animal adventures out there and better novels set in NYC. This is NOT an essential read, unless you, like Sally and I, are reading all of the Newbery winners.