Catcall by Linda Newbery

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Catcall by Linda Newbery

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Catcall is a very strong psychological drama for confident readers and teens alike. Its central characters, Josh and Jamie, are battling some demons that most children will recognise as demons of their own and the book's great pace and tension-building will keep them reading.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: October 2006
Publisher: Orion Children's Books
ISBN: 1842551256

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Josh and Jamie have been through quite a bit of late. Their parents split up and both have found new partners, so they have a stepmother and a stepfather. Their mother has had just had a new baby, Jennie. Their stepmother has a rather unfriendly son. Josh has just moved up from primary school to secondary school and is rather homesick for his old teachers. Josh is a very bright child, he loves finding out new things. He has a phenomenal memory for facts and is very interested in the natural world, in particular big cats. Following a visit to a wildlife park, his younger brother Jamie seems to catch the cat disease, but not in a good way. Jamie has terribly vivid nightmares and eventually retreats into his own world, in which he is Leo, the lion. With his parents caught up in their new lives, it's up to Josh to bring back the Jamie that was.

It's a great story, with lots of pace, lots of familiar situations, and a little bit of magic. I really liked Josh, he reminded me of my older son. Both are bright, curious children with a habit of collecting facts and of attributing anything they don't understand to the supernatural. It's their way of coping with a mind that wanders a little further than a corresponding level of experience and maturity. My son does this often. I think many children do. Of course, Jamie's breakdown is more to do with family upheaval than it is to do with any magical power, but for Josh, it is the only method his eleven-year-old mind can use to make sense of some emotionally crippling events. By the end of the book, he has learned a great deal about family dynamics and has passed some important developmental milestones. He is a tremendously sympathetic character and one with whom children will readily identify.

Catcall is ideal for reading together, or at least - as we do hereabouts these days - reading as a family, one after the other, for I think there is also a great deal adults can take from it. Josh and Jamie are lucky; their parents are wise and sensible and have anticipated the problems family upheavals can cause. The divorced parents maintain an excellent relationship and the step-parents try very hard not to favour their own children. All the adults in the book are sensitive to Josh's and Jamie's needs. Yet none of this prevented Jamie's emotional breakdown. Events were still too much for him, and eventually, for Josh too. Even the best of parents cannot protect their children from everything. Life is not made from cotton wool. What parents can do - what the adults in Catcall did do - is to provide a cushioned landing and the building blocks with which to begin again once the crisis has passed. This is a valuable point made by Newbery and certainly one worth talking about as a family.

I enjoyed Catcall a great deal. I liked the way in which Newbery blended a little spookiness and mystery into a very contemporary setting. Catcall is placed in an interesting gap between the kitchen sink works of people such as Jacqueline Wilson and the magical realities of people such as David Almond. All are dealing with the emotional landscapes children face, and all are giving them the opportunities to find independent ways of settling into them.

Perfect for boys and girls of 9 and up, I think this one is worth buying and keeping.

Other great books about a child's inner turmoil are Paula Fox's One Eyed Cat and Nina Bawden's Peppermint Pig. We also have a review of Newbery's The Brockenspectre.

Thanks to Orion for sending the book.

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