Title: Catfishing on Catnet
Author: Naomi Kritzer
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Date of Publication: November 19, 2019
Publisher: Tor Teen
This book is marketed as a dark thriller. I mean, look at that cover (Which, by the way, is not the cover it had when I requested it through NetGalley. That cover had cute cyber-kitties on it). Doesn’t this cover make the book look dark and spooky? Even the description and the initial reviews made it sound like a dark thriller about an AI that goes off its rocker.
On the contrary, this is a light book about a girl who’s always been on the run with her mother. They always have to move to different towns, so Stephanie doesn’t have any friends–in the real world. She has friends in CatNet, a chat room where pictures of cats and other adorable animals are like currency. It’s quickly revealed that one of these friends is an artificial intelligence, and this AI wants to come out of the closet. Meanwhile, Stephanie will do whatever it takes to keep from having to move to another town, because there’s a girl in her class who she isn’t ready to leave.
This book has a lot of great ideas, but I was disappointed in the execution. I’ll start with one of my favourite parts. In school, the students are expected to learn sex education from a robot, because adults find that topic uncomfortable. This part had me laughing (and a little angry, because it’s so darn accurate), and every time students would ask an unsanctioned question (about LGBTQ+ issues, for instance) the robot would tell them to ask their parents. This was a hilarious and interesting projection of the current political climate, and I do wish this book had had more of these types of funny (yet upsetting) insights.
I absolutely loved the metaphor of the AI coming out as an artificial intelligence. However, for a book that is very Social Justice Warrior-y, the characters were often insensitive, and a lot of the metaphors really didn’t work. Stephanie should not have been running around telling everyone that [spoiler] was an AI, because that ruins the metaphor. It was the AI’s choice to tell people, not Stephanie’s. *Sigh*
I enjoyed the main story arc of the novel, but again, it wasn’t particularly suspenseful or dark. I would have liked for there to have been a few twists or turns in the storyline, to keep me asking questions. Maybe I’ve been reading too many psychological thrillers, but I usually expect a twist or two in my books. At least one. (And that twist can’t be the one in the first chapter that reveals that one of the main characters is an AI).
I didn’t particularly like Stephanie, the main character. I felt for her plight, particularly the fact that her mother had lied to her her entire life, and her inability to make real-life friends–because she knew that these relationships could only be temporary. However, there were a few times when I really couldn’t stand Stephanie. In particular–when her mother is in the hospital, and Stephanie doesn’t know what’s wrong with her or if she’s even dying–and she doesn’t check on her for a very long time. Her mother has been essentially her only real-life friend her entire life, yet she doesn’t come across as particularly worried. She’s more concerned about her budding romance–which may be authentic for a teenage character, but this doesn’t make for a sympathetic character.
The saving grace for this book Stephanie’s relationship with Rachel. It was gradual, not insta-love, and they had cute interactions. However, I don’t understand why characters in non-fantasy YA books need to be so quirky these days. Why can’t the main character’s love interest be a normal girl who doesn’t draw on people and who has a normal number of birds waiting for her when she gets home (And for those asking, I’d say a normal number of birds would be 1-4).
I recommend this book to those who are looking for a YA quasi-thriller about artificial intelligence and contemporary social justice warrior issues. Just don’t think about the metaphors too much, and you might enjoy this book.
*Thank you to Tor Teen and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy for review*
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