Monday, November 12, 2012

The Five Lives of our cat Zook

Horn Book (May/June, 2012)

Oona did not acquire the family cat Zook (short for Zucchini) in the most respectable of ways. By hiding his collar, she liberated the animal, skinny and with a BB pellet in his side, from an owner she suspected of neglect. Since that time two-and-a-half years ago, Oona’s father has died, and now Zook is sick. To comfort her little brother, Oona, channeling their dad, "the Great Rebus-Maker and Whopper-Teller," comes up with stories about Zook’s previous lives. The siblings’ own lives are also changing, as their mother has started dating Dylan, a.k.a. The Villain, original owner (Oona thinks) of Zook. Just as she did in One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street (rev. 7/11), Rocklin intertwines her characters so smartly that the many coincidences and serendipitous events feel organic to the story. This time the setting is Oakland, California, where, in Oona’s close-knit, "multi-culti" neighborhood, the local pizza joint acts as the kids’ afterschool hangout and block parties double as family reunions. It’s not all urban gardens and sunshine, though; Oona’s friend starts acting distant; her mother is underemployed; and her father’s absence weighs heavily on everyone’s hearts. Plus, Zook’s failing health leaves Oona, her mother, and brother to make painful decisions about his care. The story’s ending -- bittersweet, inevitable, and true -- offers much-needed catharsis for the family and for anyone who has ever loved a pet. elissa gershowitz

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