My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’ve been on a Linda Newbery kick recently, and have come to a bit of a conclusion. I think I mark her quite severely when I review her, and I think that’s for one reason. Because sometimes when people are really good, and they make you think twice about the written word and how things come together, they need to be marked on a slightly different scale because that’s where they are. So when I tell you that this has got five stars, it’s really, really got five stars. Hard-earned, hard won. And it’s a sort of five stars that, to be honest, I wouldn’t give to that many other books.
In Catcall, Josh and his younger brother Jamie are part of a family that is experiencing many changes. Their parents have separated, their mother and her new partner have just had a baby girl, and their father is making home with his new partner, and her teenage son. It is a family in flux, and it is a flux that is not due to settle down any time soon.
One day, Josh and Jamie are taken to Cotswold Wildlife Park and it’s there that they meet the lion. It’s a meeting that sticks with them both and changes things forever. Soon Jamie isn’t talking, and then when he does start talking, he’s adopted the identity of ‘Leo’. It’s up to Josh to figure out what’s going on and bring his little brother back.
This is a quietly intense book, as many of Newbery’s seem to be, and it deals with matters of family, of identity and finding your place in the world. It’s a deeply astute and full of a sort of chillingly precise yet incredibly sympathetic psychological analysis. Catcall is the portrait of two boys, and their family, trying to figure out how things work now. And it’s in the portrayal of the two boys, Jamie in particular, that Catcall impresses. The lion affects Jamie in a more obvious manner but Josh is struggling too – and it’s through saving Jamie that Josh is able to save himself.
Sometimes when a book punches out of the page at you, it’s churlish – foolish – to try and ignore it. Catcall is one of those books that makes you want to go up to a stranger int the street, wave it in their face and go, “LOOK, LOOK, CHILDREN’S LITERATURE IS DOING MASSIVE THINGS AND YOU NEED TO PAY ATTENTION TO IT.”