Friday, August 05, 2016

Forgotten Books: It's Like This, Cat - Emily Neville


Earlier this summer, my daughter who teaches third grade was putting together a collection of Newbery Award books for her classroom, and that put me in mind of this novel by Emily Neville from 1964, which won the award that year for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. 1964 or '65 is when I read it, too, and I recalled liking it a great deal. So I decided to reread it and see how it holds up more than fifty years later.

IT'S LIKE THIS, CAT is narrated by Dave Mitchell, a 14-year-old boy who lives in Manhattan with his parents. This is the New York City you often see in sitcoms: a little colorful in certain areas, maybe, but overall clean, charming, and safe. Dave thinks nothing of going all over on his bike or taking subways, buses, and ferries to all the boroughs. In a way, IT'S LIKE THIS, CAT is a bit of travelogue, detailing the places Dave goes, the people he meets there, and the things they do. He adopts Cat, a tomcat who comes to him from an eccentric family friend. He meets a burglar who's not really a burglar. He has a falling out with his best friend. He makes other friends and catches lizards in a park with one of them. He meets a girl and begins a tentative romance with her. It's all very episodic, and Cat, even though he's in the title of the book, seems to disappear for long stretches of it.

Neville writes very well, especially about the city. This particular version of New York may be a fantasy, but she makes it an appealing, gently humorous one. Dave is a likable, realistic protagonist, and his relationship with the girl he meets at Coney Island is handled in a believable fashion. The plot is realistic, too, in that it just sort of meanders along, never really comes to any sort of point, and then stops abruptly, which is just like life, I guess. I have to admit, this may be one of those books where I was better off remembering it fondly rather than revisiting it. However, I think IT'S LIKE THIS, CAT is worth reading if you haven't read it before, because it does a good job of evoking a particular time. It's a nice book. Sometimes that's what you want to read.

11 comments:

Todd Mason said...

Oddly, my unrefreshed memory of it was it was kind of angsty, particularly where it involves the title cat. You have me curious about looking at it again.

Did you (or your daughter) ever read the runner-up that year (along with Sterling North's raccoon-pet memoir RASCAL), the contemporary western THE LONER by Ester Wier? My favorite novel for quite a stretch of my youth, when I was making my way through the Newbery lists in the early-mid '70s...and definitely some grim to it.

James Reasoner said...

I never read THE LONER, as far as I recall. I definitely read RASCAL, though. I believe that was one of the books we read in my fifth grade class, although I probably would have read it anyway since I tended to pick up all the animal books I could find back then.

Todd Mason said...

The 1964 ballot, for 1963 books, was a good pet year...THE LONER, which does stand up on adult re-reading (at least for me), also involves the relation between the young protagonist and, among others, the shepherd dog he works with in the course of learning his way around his new job and life.

Richard Robinson said...

What a damn shame it is that that nice, clean, safe city has to be a fantasy, instead of reality. I thin it was a lot like that in the Fifties, but began changing in the following decade, and now, like most cities it's kind of "enter at your own risk".

I read this about the same time you did, and liked it, though I couldn't have told you a thing about it until I read this review. Thanks, as always, James.

Anonymous said...

I too read this one in third grade.
I remember enjoying it but being disappointed that there wasn't more Cat in it.

Now RASCAL is a different story. I loved that one so much I'm almost afraid to re-read it.

John Hocking

Richard Robinson said...

@ John, I re-read RASCAL about five or six years ago and still enjoyed it, and the illustrations.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Rick, I can tell you that despite what the media likes to highlight, New York is at least as safe as we've been since the 1960's (or earlier), with a few exceptions. As for clean, with 8 million residents and more millions coming in daily to work, plus millions more out of town visitors, it never was.

roadgeek said...

What a great book. I read it as a child, then again as a teen, when it had more meaning. Your review overlooked Dave's relationship with his father, which was bumpy at times. I found the book in an antique store some years ago and snatched it up. It's one of my treasures. And, yes, my first look at New York, apart from "The Saturdays", by Elizabeth Enright.

James Reasoner said...

Dave's father really is a good character, and I should have mentioned him.

Todd Mason said...

As Rick doesn't quite mention, the RASCAL illos are by John Schoenherr, he off much illustration (most famously DUNE these years). http://johnschoenherr.blogspot.com/2011/04/rascal-ephemera.html

Todd Mason said...

The Loner (and It's Like This, Cat and Rascal)