It’s Like This, Cat

April 2, 2008


I’m always surprised when I see anything published more recently than, say, 1930 on Project Gutenburg. And when I do, they’re usually science fiction stories that I have no interest in. So It’s Like This, Cat was even more of a surprise, because it feels like an old paperback I would have randomly picked off the shelf in school in 4th or 5th grade.

It’s Like This, Cat is by Emily Neville, and it won the Newbery Medal in 1964. Apparently it was considered very original at the time, because of the very informal narration, which is not only first-person, but also in the present tense. I’ve never been a fan of narration in the present tense, and Neville’s style is bald and uninteresting, but it’s an okay book. I think maybe it’s originality was most of what it had going for it, though, so now that its innovations are no longer new and exciting, it seems kind of typical.

There’s a kid, Dave, and he lives in New York in the east 20s, and he doesn’t get along well with his father. He’s friends with an old lady who lives nearby and takes in stray cats. He takes one of the cats home and names it Cat. He also meets and makes friends with Tom, a boy who moved to New York to go to college, got kicked out for something that mostly wasn’t his fault, was sort of disowned by his father, and is trying to get his life back together. He also meets Mary, a girl who lives in Coney Island with her beatnik mother and isn’t giggly and annoying like the other girls Dave knows. Over the course of the book, he learns more about the people around him and grows up a little.

I reread Roald Dahl’s The BFG the other day, and there’s this section in it about how the BFG can create a dream from other dreams that have the necessary elements in them. I kept thinking about that as I read this book, because I feel like I could mix together about ten different books — maybe even less — from the 60s, 70s and 80s, and come up with It’s Like This, Cat.

I don’t want to call it a failure, but it does seem as if it ought to be more moving than it is. The illustrations (by Emil Weiss) are nice, though, and Neville deserves bonus points for the cool title, although it would be cooler if Dave actually spent a lot of time talking to Cat.


  1. This book was part of my early scarring for life. The part in the book where the kittens get out and run among the feet of the reporters and one gets stepped on just horrified me with its description of “bright red blood”.

  2. Yuck. I think of this book as sort of innocuous, but I guess not, if it gets you young enough.

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