Wednesday, October 15, 2014
The Cat at the Wall, by Deborah Ellis. Groundwood Books, 2014. $9.95 ages 10 and up
This is a most interesting book to read. It is unlike any that I have read from Deborah Ellis; and yet, it is not. It is a compelling story from Bethlehem, Israel about a sly and vocal cat, two soldiers, a young boy and a mission. The cat speaks because it was once a girl named Clare. Its voice is unique and totally believable due to Ms. Ellis' impressive writing skill. As she has so capably done before, she is able to introduce her readers to an ongoing war that they may know only from news headlines.
The girl Clare died (while texting) when hit by a truck as she left her middle school. Reincarnation came in the form of a cat, and in a land far from her Pennsylvania home. Today, she forages for food, always wary of other cats and only wanting a place to rest. Tensions are high for all who live in the West Bank. Clare is not immune to the conflict.
The underlying theme of the entire book is conflict...and is shared by Clare from both perspectives. Chapters move back and forth from her previous life to her present one. In both places, Clare is mostly concerned with herself, and only learns to care about others due to the circumstances of the story. Her wry sense of humor offers readers an occasional respite from the ongoing and escalating disputes between student and teacher, and between soldiers and civilians.
Clare the cat escapes certain death when two Israeli Defense soldiers enter a Palestinian home. She is in the right place at exactly the right time, and scrambles indoors with them. She learns that they are using the home to spy on others. They do not know that a child is hiding inside. Clare discovers Omar first, and listens to him as he relentlessly recites the poem Desiderata. The words bring back memories of Clare's former life and a teacher whose detention assignment was to write the words of that same poem...once for every detention. Clare, the middle grader, is adept at putting herself in spots where detention is the result. As she writes and rewrites the poem, she pays no attention to its meaning. There is power in its words for both the young lady and the cat.
I think that the best thing about this book is that Deborah Ellis quietly and with the greatest care nudges us to realize that we can make a difference in our world. Her dedication 'to those who bring kindness to chaos' is a reminder that I want to be in that procession!