Published by Tu Books on April 1, 2012
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary, YA Paranormal
Natalie Ng’s little sister is a super-genius with a chameleon-like ability to disappear. Her older sister has three Class A Talents, including being a human lie detector. Her mom has laser vision and has one of the highest IQs ever. Her dad’s Talent is so complex even the Bureau of Extra-Sensory Regulation and Management (BERM) hardly knows what to classify him as.
And Nat? She can talk to cats.
The whole talking-to-cats thing is something she tries very hard to hide, except with her best friends Oscar (a celebrity-addicted gossip hound) and Melly (a wannabe actress). When Oscar shows her a viral Internet video featuring a famous blogger being attacked by her own cat, Nat realizes what’s really going on…and it’s not funny.
(okay, yeah, a frou-frou blogger being taken down by a really angry cat named Tiddlywinks, who also happens to be dyed pink? Pretty hilarious.)
Nat and her friends are catapulted right into the middle of a celebrity kidnapping mystery that takes them through Ferris Bueller’s Chicago and on and off movie sets. Can she keep her reputation intact? Can she keep Oscar and Melly focused long enough to save the day? And, most importantly, can she keep from embarrassing herself in front of Ian?
Find out what happens when the kitty litter hits the fan.
Diversity Rating: 2 – It’s a Start!
Racial-Ethnic: 4 (Nat and her family are Chinese from the father’s side; her best friend Oscar is Japanese through his mom)
QUILTBAG: -1 (Oscar is gay and one of the worst Gay Best Friend stereotypes I’ve seen in a while)
Oh, were you not aware that I like cats? Understandable. I’m pretty subtle about it, what with my constant cat pics on social media and running a book blog called The YA Kitten. Of course I’m gonna read a book about a girl who can talk to cats as a superpower! Alas, Cat Girl’s Day Off is a mess.
Nat’s main internal conflict is that she doesn’t want anyone outside her family and her closest friends to know her Talent is speaking to cats. It’s a ridiculous Talent, she says. She’ll get made fun of like the guy who could turn frogs different colors, she says.
Except it’s never a believable conflict. Sure, the one friend she told as a kid meowed at her until she moved away a month later, but that’s one person. Modern readers also come to the book from a world where a cat therapist has a show called My Cat From Hell on Animal Planet and he rehabilitates destructive, angry cats for the entertainment of the masses. Nat could make a fortune doing that! Or if she decided to swallow her squeamishness and become a vet, she would be highly in demand as a cat specialist. I’d go to her just to find out what happened to my enormous cat Bridgette when she ran away from home that one time. She’s never been the same.
(Besides, turning frogs different colors with a kiss is a legitimately ridiculous Talent. Speaking to animals, especially specific ones, is not on the same level as that.)
Much worse, she uses swear word replacement phrases like “frick on a stick” and it’s a killer. If I’d read that phrase one more time, I was going to climb the roof of my house to scream my displeasure for a while. It’s so stiff and unnatural that those instances forced me to take multiple breaks just to ease my irritation.
But the plot: a dyed-pink cat crying out on video that its gossip blogger owner is actually an imposter leads Nat to get involved and steal the cat (called Tiddlywinks by his owner but actually named Rufus Brutus the Third). As you do. It’s actually pretty entertaining to see Rufus do what cats do best: mess up their caretaker’s life. See, Nat’s mom is seriously allergic to cats, so Nat has to take Rufus to school with her–and when she’s being an extra in a film being shot at her school, Rufus smells the impostor. Poor Nat gets arrested. That whole incident is a surprisingly genuine way the story is kept moving.
I say that because most of the book is propelled forward in far more contrived ways. See: Nat and her best friend Oscar breaking into the impostor’s house and finding a kidnapped girl heavily weakened due to starvation and the impostor’s Talent. The police are on their way and will discover this girl, presumably taking her to safety. What do our heroes do? THEY TAKE HER WITH THEM TO CONFRONT THE IMPOSTOR. Because the police won’t help, I guess.
Naturally, the kidnapping victim is so weakened by her captivity that the impostor is able to use her as a hostage. It’s a good thing some drunken frat boys were around to defeat her with a group hug! (Even though that’s simplifying it a little, that’s how I want to tell people it happened.)
The problem with all that is how Nat’s thought process doesn’t explain why she did that. Teens find millions of ways to justify their bad decisions, but Nat doesn’t even try! Even an attempt at justifying herself would have satisfied me and made her poor decision-making skills less bearable. It’s basically an entire book of Nat having a choice and making the worst possible choice without any justification from her narration.
The side characters and worldbuilding can be described the same way: flat. Other than what I’ve already explained in this review, there is no worldbuilding. Nat’s best friend’s Oscar and Melly are one-note characters, especially in Oscar’s case. He’s the Gay Best Friend stereotype to the very last letter.
Nat’s family is just as bad, but her inferiority complex regarding them is one of the novel’s few strong points. Nat feels alienated from her family because their Talents are “better” than hers. Now that I get. A mom with laser vision, a dad with a superb sense of smell, a genius chameleon for a little sister, and a triple-threat older sister,… I’d feel inferior too!
But damn it man, how could a book with so many cats disappoint me like this? I feel so bad I wanna go snuggle me cat, who is helping me write reviews by napping on her window perch and generally being cute. Cat Girl’s Day Off ain’t recommended. I think it also made me hate its inspiration Ferris Bueller’s Day Off a little bit too.