Monday, April 12, 2021

Coming Home: Leonard (My Life As A Cat) by Carlie Sorosiak

This was not the way it was supposed to go!

It's unclear when things started to go wrong. Perhaps it was when I began to sprout a tail....

I was a cat, crashing into North America. Faster, faster, landing paws-first in a tree. And what a sensation--to feel.

For almost three hundred years, I had wished for hands. Humans might take these things for granted, but I promised myself, centuries ago, that I would not. It was so tremendously exciting, as I hitched a ride on that beam of light. This trip to Earth was about discovery. And I was ready. I chose the most magnificent creature on Earth: the common human--a national park ranger.

But instead of a ranger in Yellowstone National Park, the space traveler finds himself a cat, being rescued from a tropical storm in Turtle Beach, South Carolina, saved from drowning by a smallish girl in a yellow slicker, proving her claim to be a Girl Scout by grabbing the scruff of his neck and pulling him to safety.

Glimpsing a human up close was something like a miracle.

Olive, too, is not exactly where she would have chosen to be. Her mom has parked her for the summer with a grandmother she hardly knows while she and her fiance' head west to find a new home for all three of them in California--where Olive doesn't want to be. It's hard enough not fitting in with kids she's always known, and she has no idea what kind of creatures California middle school kids will be.

But Olive explains to her grandma Norma that she couldn't let the cat drown, and the once incorporeal being begins getting used to a real body--with a tail he didn't quite know what to do with--and the strange feeling of affection he feels for the the girl who saved him, the girl that seems to understand and want to care for him. Humans are both like and unlike the ones in "I Love Lucy" or "Dora the Explorer" that he had studied before. Olive helps him get used to a dish with crunchy things to eat (eating was new) and his own litter box (another very new experience) and a collar and leash so she can take him everywhere she goes. She begins to tell him all about everything, and he realizes that on earth, there is both the feeling of touch and personal feelings--fears, hopes, love. She even gives him a name--Leonard. How she knew he wanted a yellow raincoat like hers, he doesn't know, but she ordered it for him. She takes him to the aquarium where Norma and her friend Q work, and Leonard knows just the way to call the penguins, and Olive begins to suspect that he is no ordinary cat. And when she falls asleep with her laptop open and on, Leonard decides to type a message to tell her what he really is.

"I am an alien."

Leonard confesses how he came to be a cat in a storm-tossed tree in South Carolina instead of a ranger at Yellowstone Park, and he has to tell her that he must be there, beside the geyser Old Faithful at just the right instant in a month if he is ever to return to his own helium planet and re-claim his immortality as member of his Hive. Olive is both amazed and sad at the thoughts of losing Leonard, but she promises to try to come up with some way to get him to the right spot to return to his own place in space. In the days it takes Olive to persuade Norma and her friend Q to drive them to Yellowstone, Leonard has the surprising experience of enjoying everything he does. Even the long car ride--that most human of trips--the roadside cafes where they eat pancakes, the long dark nights of driving through rainstorms, the camping out under the trees and skies, and the feeling of being part of a sort of family is wonderful. Leonard knows that Norma and Q's making the drive straight through from South Carolina to Wyoming come out of their love for Olive, and that Olive, who loves him deeply, deeply enough to make him a Yellowstone Ranger's badge for his raincoat, enough to do everything to help him go back, is doing it all because she loves him.

"I realize that even though I've lived in a different body, I have really and truly lived."

Leonard realizes that as a mortal, even a cat, he can make a choice. As he nears Old Faithful, he hears the Hive counting down to activate his energy beam.


Which way is home?

In a unusual fantasy filled with pathos and humor, Carlie Sorosiak's just published novel, Leonard (My Life as a Cat) (Walker Books, 2021) is about how and what it is to be mortal, from the tap of beginning raindrops, sunshine on shoulders, the surge of the ocean, the touch of a hand, and the love they are capable of sharing, even with a supposed stray cat. In a parallel with Olive, who has to choose to stay with Norma or go to California, Leonard has to decide to forfeit the immortality of the mind-meld of the Hive for the mortal life in the deep relationship of belonging in a impromptu family. What is it to be a mortal creature in the one part of the world he can call home? Young readers will love Leonard, alien or mortal, and also feel the warmth of love and place in this genuinely moving, very human science fiction novel.

Writes Kirkus Reviews, "A comforting read about connection and compassion."

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