You Are a Cat!: Sherwin Tjia


So you may or may not be aware of this, but I wrote a book. It features a lot of things, including some pirates who, because of circumstances detailed in my head but not in the book, have no boat; an explosion or two in places where I may or may not have worked; an attack rabbit named Mr. Fluffy; a large gathering of robotic Gothic Lolitas; and, relevant to our discussion here today, an army of house cats. The cats keep their own counsel and move according to their own agenda, and are actually not the main focus of the book. But they are great for getting people’s attention at the many book fairs I attend with my publisher, where I try to persuade passers-by to buy my book.

I made a stop-motion animated trailer for it with plastic toy cats and faceless wire puppets. (Animation is a great hobby if you like spending hours alone in the dark moving tiny objects in tiny increments and then photographing each and every move. I do not recommend it for the more social among us. Although buying all those tiny cats meant talking to a lot of toy store clerks, all of whom gave me very strange looks when they realized I intended to buy all of the tiny cats they had in stock.) And now, their role in the film finished, the tiny cats spend their retirement on book fair tables, enticing small children to come and touch them and crazy cat people to come and offer to buy them. Neither of these groups is the target audience for my book. This is clearly not a good marketing strategy.

But all those cats mean that anyone else hawking anything cat-related at any book fair will eventually circle in on our table to talk cats. These chats usually end up in a trade or the mutual purchase of each other’s wares. I have an entire CD of various cats purring. (Which sounds ridiculous, but is actually very awesome and I have no regrets. Those cats are comforting as hell.) And in one mutual cat product exchange, I ended up with You Are a Cat!, a “Pick-a-Plot!” book. Yes, this is just so the Choose Your Own Adventure people don’t sue, because it is basically a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Except you are not a person. You are, as the title so clearly indicates, a cat.

A cat named Holden Catfield specifically. Holden lives with a very dysfunctional family, not that he actually gives a crap. As you might expect, Holden’s interest in this family is mostly related to whether or not he wants to be petted or he’s hungry. As you guide him through the pages of this story with your choices and turning to page whatever, he gets into scrapes, hooks up with a strange lady cat, chases dream squirrels, and witnesses some disturbing events, among many other things. Holden is a pretty busy cat.


And of course since it’s You Are a Cat! and not That Guy Is a Cat!, the entire thing is written in the second person, a voice which I like very much and would like to see more of in something other than a gamebook. (If you know any good books in the second person, let me know!) The whole thing is an easy read, although you’re not going to want to give it to the younger readers in your life, thanks to some very graphic scenes and adult language. And unsurprisingly, given Tjia’s background as a comics writer, the book is filled with thick-lined illustrations of the various scenes in the story, including some great close-ups of Holden’s prey. And the aforementioned graphic scenes. Seriously, don’t give this to your kids.

But the book does fall afoul of the thing that has turned me off of basically every gamebook I’ve ever read: Once you get to a certain point, you end up reading the same ending over and over, and have to do some serious plotting and planning to get to read the other endings. (I am a completist. There is no way I can leave some pages of a book unread. I even read the page in this book that is not actually connected to any other page. A page for completist nerds, basically.)


In this case, it is a family storyline in which after investigating the doings of every family member, Holden witnesses tragedy. It’s a well-written storyline and certainly was interesting to read the first time, but turning to it for the gajillionth time, I wanted to throw the book against a wall. This definitely diminished my reading pleasure, but I still enjoyed the way Tjia manages to address some fairly serious issues in what purports to be a fairly non-serious outing in the world of fiction. A little bullying, some alcoholism, even a would-be serial killer, all viewed with the detachment of a house cat who is more interested in killing that piece of thread.

The book is dedicated to “Selina Kyle” which basically cracks me up, even now when I’ve read that dedication five hundred times. Also hilarious are the pages and pages of advertisements at the back for other books in the series. Less-devoted writers may have thought up one or two other possible adventures; Tjia offers up twelve other possible titles, including You Are Old! and You Are Obsessed With Johnny Depp!, complete with synopses and sample plot choices. I really want to read You Are Sent Back in Time to Kill Baby Hitler!, but given that it’s number ten in the series, I doubt I’ll be seeing it on my shelf anytime soon.


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