How much does the internet know about YOU? A thought-provoking near future YA thriller that could not be more timely as it explores issues of online privacy, artificial intelligence, and the power and perils of social networks.
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.
Catfishing on CatNet is a surprising, heartfelt near-future YA thriller by award-winning author Naomi Kritzer, whose short story “Cat Pictures Please” won the Hugo Award and Locus Award and was a finalist for the Nebula.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racism, Strong sexual themes, Misgendering, Stalking, Domestic violence, Kidnapping
Booklist (October 15, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 4))
Grades 9-12. Steph’s life isn’t easy. Her mother keeps moving her from town to town every few months to evade her father, who may or may not be a dangerous kidnapper. Meanwhile, Steph finds friendship in an online forum for cat-lovers, known as CatNet. But after she moves to New Coburg and manages to find some real-life friends, she gets involved in a hacking prank that goes awry. In the aftermath, Steph begins to find out more and more disturbing information about her past, and her father just might have enough information to track down her online friends—and maybe even her. Although the narrative style seems to struggle with understanding what it wants to be (the AI’s introspection is a bit too on the nose), Kritzer manages to keep the plot from going entirely over the top. In her first foray into YA literature, she explores social anxieties around technology and automation, artificial intelligence, and gender and sexuality, all while also providing readers with a captivating and mysterious near-future thriller.
Kirkus Reviews starred (September 15, 2019)
Dual narrators—a cat picture–loving AI and a teen with a dangerous past—develop a friendship. Steph’s spent her whole life constantly on the move, never in one town or school long enough to make friends, as her mother keeps them carefully hidden from Steph’s abusive father. Her realest connections are her online friends from an internet community called CatNet. CatNet is secretly run by one of those friends—username CheshireCat—a powerful AI that uses the community for cat pictures and to counter loneliness. When Steph and her friends hack her new school’s sex ed–instructing robot (to give actual, correct answers to questions instead of “You’ll have to discuss that with your parents!”), the resulting hilarity and scandal attract unintended media attention, leading to worries that Steph’s father will be able to use the story to find them. Preemptive digging into her father reveals worrying inconsistencies in what Steph thinks she knows, kicking off a tense, fast-paced thriller storyline. The believably applied near-future technology grounds the wilder plot elements. The personhood elements of the AI narrator’s story complement identity themes among the cast at large—though the new town is nearly all white (with one biracial black/white character), the characters offer positive, realistic LGBTQIA+ representation—especially nonbinary identities and characters still exploring their identities. Refreshingly, the characters also feel like generally-woke-but-still-imperfect humans. Wickedly funny and thrilling in turns; perfect for readers coming-of-age online. (Thriller. 13-adult)
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.
Her website is www.naomikritzer.com.
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