Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Review: Fat Cat by Robin Brande

Found via: Galley Cat

Oh boy, do I ever have conflicting feelings over this title. I'm not sure exactly what I expected from this (it was starred in my Google Reader before I'd started keeping track of what I was looking forward to reading and why in my TBR spreadsheet), but for every time this book scored a hit, there was another glaring miss that had my literally cringing.

Cat has one goal for her Special Topics in Research Science class - come up with a project so awesome she'll beat the pants off of Matt McKinney, her rival since the seventh grade. Cat thinks she has the perfect plan: replicate the diet and lifestyle of early hominids as closely as possible, and observe the results, using herself as a test experiment. Minimal electricity usage, walking instead of driving, and eating only the foods that would have been available to homo erectus. A killer project with a side bonus: Cat is sure she'll look fabulous by the end of the school year.

What she doesn't count on is suddenly becoming something of a boy magnet. And not just any boys. Hot boys. Athletic boys. Boys that seem to be making Matt more than a little jealous. Not that Cat cares what Matt thinks; he betrayed her terribly back in the seventh grade, and finally having a science project that beats him at the science fair will be worthy payback.

But living a la homo erectus isn't always easy, and navigating the murky world of boys and romance is difficult for anyone. The pressure is rising for Cat, not only to keep up with her project, but to keep the boys at bay long enough for her to truly heal her broken heart.

Okay, yes, that broken heart bit makes me gag a little bit too, but it's a running theme throughout this book.

Let me get the cringe-inducing moments out of the way so I can end on a positive note, okay?

First of all: almost all of the boys in this book suck. Brande gives us two guys who date Cat who don't understand the meaning of "no." Which is okay on the surface - it gives the story dramatic tension and it's good to see that Cat knows exactly where her boundaries are and knows how to say "no." But then her best friend comes along and doesn't care that these boys don't respect her boundaries. One boy grabs Cat's rear end in the hallway, and she forcefully tells him to knock it out. He does it again and she shoves him against a locker (which made me cheer). But when he comes back with a flower and begging for forgiveness, not only does Cat accept but her best friend tells her she really needs to give the guy another chance.

The best friend, Amanda, is actually the source of a lot of my tension with the novel, because while she is funny and smart and a great poet and seems to love Cat, she's also super annoying and lacks some fundamental respect for Cat. She repeatedly tells Cat that she's going to grow up to be a bitter old hag if she doesn't date in high school and constantly lures Cat away from the tenets of her science experiment. If it had happened once or twice I would have overlooked it, but Amanda never seems willing to compromise her plans for the sake of Cat's experiment; instead it's always Cat trying to rationalize breaking her own rules. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Because most of the time I really liked Cat. She's unapologetically smart and knows what she wants in life (well, as much as you can really know at 17). I loved it when she said early on in the novel that dating was not what she wanted to do right now - she wasn't ruling out the possibility of romance and love and marriage in the future, but she doesn't feel she needs to rush into things. Also, over the course of the novel, she becomes much more athletic, and revels in it:
Because there was a time in my life, before Willie Martin pointed out how fat I was, that I would have known I could beat those two people and anyone else in the pool. Maybe not an Olympic swimmer or someone twice my age with longer arms and legs, but definitely someone my own size, Willie Bleeping Martin included.

Because I was good. Really good. I was a strong girl, and I loved my sport. I loved competing (203).

I also liked how Cat's weight was handled in the novel. The only specific sizes we are told is that she would one day like to be a size eight and her rapidly shrinking bra size. We don't see anyone shame Cat for her weight except for episodes in her past like from Willie Bleeping Martin, and we're never told what her weight or jeans size is before or after the experiment starts. I thought it was a tactful way to avoid shaming or embarrassing a reader who is larger than a size eight.

I really enjoyed seeing how Cat's experiment evolved over the course of the novel; there were some interesting scientific theories proposed. Of course, I also felt sometimes that the reader was being lectured about nutrition through Cat's dietitian. Also, WTF, dietitian, saying that cutting out pop and chocolate will reduce acne? Because I'm pretty sure that myth has been debunked. I really hope the rest of the science in the book wasn't flawed like that, because there's some interesting stuff in here.

So Fat Cat gets points for having a smart, athletic, not-skinny protagonist, but loses a lot of points for her unhelpful best friend. I think what was most disappointing about that best friend is that one of Brande's books made the 2008 Amelia Bloomer Project list. While Cat definitely has some feminist cred, the boys and Amanda combined cancel out those positive points.


ahundredrevisions said...

In complete agreement with you on this one! There were so many places (especially with the godawful boys Cat dated) where Brande could've stepped up and clarified things just an eensy bit and I would have been so much happier. Agree with you on the best friend being annoyingly pushy, as well. In the end I wanted to LOVE this book but there were too many frustrating things about it.

Angela Craft said...

So glad I'm not alone about the best friend and the boys! Brande does a good job with Cat knowing the boys are crossing the line, but then fails to give her a spine to continue to stick to her convictions with the boys or Amanda.

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