Author: Naomi Kritzer
Publication date: November 19, 2019
Genre: young adult, sci-fi, thriller
My rating: 4.5/5 stars
Excellent queer rep. The coolest, quirkiest, most awkwardly badass AI. A ragtag team of internet friends, a road trip, a reprogrammed sex-education robot (not the AI), a literal cat…this book has a bit of everything, and it works so well. In under 300 pages, this tiny page-turner covers an impressive span of topics, with a delicate balance of fun and dread that will ring true for all of us who grew up alongside the internet.
How much does the internet know about YOU?
Because her mom is always on the move, Steph hasn’t lived anyplace longer than six months. Her only constant is an online community called CatNet—a social media site where users upload cat pictures—a place she knows she is welcome. What Steph doesn’t know is that the admin of the site, CheshireCat, is a sentient A.I.
When a threat from Steph’s past catches up to her and ChesireCat’s existence is discovered by outsiders, it’s up to Steph and her friends, both online and IRL, to save her.
Having access to knowledge doesn’t always mean understanding things. I do not entirely understand people.
I went into this book intrigued but unsure what to expect. I left it absolutely hooked and already dying for a sequel. In some ways, this book reminded me of one of my favorite reads this year, A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor, by Hank Green–between the sentient human-but-not-really-human character of CheshireCat, the witty banter, the commentary on tech culture, and the flawed-yet-lovable characters, this book pulled together many of my favorite things. While its brevity did occasionally rob it of the potential for greater expansion on certain themes, I think it made up for that occasional lack of depth with lightning-fast pacing and incisive conversations that didn’t dance around issues.
“Intelligence is knowing Frankenstein was the creator, not the monster. Wisdom is knowing Frankenstein was actually the monster.”
Look, we all know the internet and the concept of true artificial intelligence can be terrifying. Getting an advertisement for something you mentioned in passing once to a friend is creepy as heck. The idea that something out there can be smarter than us as humans suggests that we aren’t always going to be the apex predator. The fact that something can know so much about us without us actually telling it anything reminds us that our “private” thoughts aren’t always private. If a machine can convincingly act like one of us…well, what makes us special? Though of course it isn’t the central plot, Catfishing on CatNet made a point of addressing this line of thought, especially of the ethics underlying AI and what really makes people human. This is especially noteworthy because this is a case where the AI is not the “bad guy,” though some of its choices make you wonder if it might not quite be the “good guy” either. There’s gray area, and the story–especially as it approaches the end!–leans into that gray space.
“If you can care about someone, that’s a pretty good indication that you’re a person.”
So it makes sense that, while investigating the humanity of a robot, this book also features a diverse blend of its own humans, and here, it wildly succeeds. In particular, the LGBTQIA+ representation in this book was fantastic. There is on-page confirmation that different characters in the story are lesbian, bisexual, nonbinary, and asexual, among other identities. The one romantic relationship that we get to see unfold (quite realistically, coming out of friendship–no insta-love, hooray!) is a sapphic relationship and is completely adorable. There are candid discussions of gender-neutral pronouns, including singular “they” and neopronouns. There is also a good amount of discussion around the importance of being authentic with people and forging personal connections, even when trauma and past experiences might make that difficult.
There’s power in disclosure. People feel better when other people know them, the real them. That sort of disclosure is key to real friendships. To real connections.
The characters are not perfect people. They mess things up–there are a couple instances where one character says something problematic and is called out on it–and sometimes they make dumb choices. They’re teenagers. Sometimes they overestimate their abilities, or get things wrong, or get hung up on things adults may not care about as much. But they’re believable, and at the end of the day, they’re just a super-queer internet family who bonded over a love of cat pictures and now feel unflinching loyalty to these people they know only in cyberspace. They stand up and step up for each other. As someone who has bonded with some excellent groups of weirdos online due to oddly specific loves (including, among other things, books, and an international scavenger hunt), I completely recognized the feelings of camaraderie, protectiveness, and trust these characters felt toward each other. It’s something that older adults, or people who don’t spend as much time online, might find implausible, but…trust me, it’s a real feeling.
“It’s a whole group of weirdos. Why is this the first time I’ve ever felt like I fit in?”
Finally, just as a quick note: yes, this book deals with a lot of serious issues, and yes, the quotes I’ve included thus far have all been pretty intelligent-sounding, and yes, the story involves running away from evil men and hacking and other adrenaline-filled activities, but it is also a really fun time. The characters are enjoyable, their relationships resemble some of my weirdest (and greatest) friendships, and the narration made me laugh more than once. Just look at this fun-filled dialogue:
“I am following my bliss, Mom!” Rachel yells. “Like you always told me to do!”
“Your bliss was not supposed to involve an unauthorized road trip!” her mother yells back.
And, one more, which I think is a fitting parting line for this review:
“I am the world’s most badass cat picture aficionado.”
Trigger/content warnings: kidnapping, domestic abuse
About the Author
NAOMI KRITZER has been making friends online since her teens, when she had to use a modem to dial up at 2400 baud. She is a writer and blogger who has published a number of short stories and novels for adults, including the Eliana’s Song duology and the Dead Rivers Trilogy. Her 2015 short story “Cat Pictures Please” won the Hugo Award and Locus Award and was a finalist for the Nebula. Naomi lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her family and four cats. The number of cats is subject to change without notice.
Edgar Allan Poe Award Winner
There are lots of other fabulous hosts on this tour with posts including reviews, excerpts, and an interview with the author. You can find the full schedule HERE!
I’m sure I could make some quip here about how by entering this giveaway, you’re potentially giving info to AIs who will later use it to triangulate your location/blackmail you/give you really weird ad suggestions. But really, this book was such a good read, and if the biggest risk you run is the wrath of a sentient AI…well, I think it’s worth it.
The publisher is giving away five (5) finished copies of Catfishing on CatNet! Giveaway is open internationally (yes, non-US folks, you’re included on this one!), to ages 13 and up. You can enter HERE or by clicking the image above. Best of luck!