Sunday, October 11, 2009

Review of *Fat Cat* by Robin Brande

I had no idea that Robin Brande was going to have her second book published this month. I had read her first book, Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature in one sitting at the library last year. I was browsing the shelves and picked it up at random, thought I'd just read the first chapter to get a feel, and found myself a few hours later having finished it. So I was very excited to get a copy of Fat Cat this week.

When I saw the front cover online I thought the purple form being squished by the measuring tape was a person's body, but it's actually a purple book. There are curled pages along the right hand side, if you look closely. Catherine, Cat, is a science nerd. She feels she's overweight and is addicted to sugar, caffeine, and other additives. She's an overeater and is generally lazy about her eating habits, often eating from an emotional need rather than a sense of bodily hunger. Her addiction to crappy food also fuels her cravings for more crappy food. One thing I loved about Fat Cat is that Brande never gives out the numbers; we never know how exactly "fat" Cat is, or how skinny she gets when she starts eating right. Which is great. You just get this sense of how Cat feels about herself at the beginning and how she feels as the story goes on. Her weight is measured by how good she feels inside.

So Cat is in her highschool research science class and her teacher Mr. Fizer is describing their big project of the year. The project is independent and each person has 7 months to work it out for themselves. Everything is top secret and the final presentation is very important for college applications and scholarships. Secretly, winning with her project is important to Cat because it would mean beating Matt McKinney, her nemesis. According to Cat, Matt is a total jerk. We're also told that Matt did something unforgiveable years ago that Cat has held onto, and now she's making it her personal goal to beat him.

The project is assigned randomly. Students pick a picture out of a face-down pile and have to form a hypothesis based on the image. If you're lucky you'll get a picture that has something to do with your strengths; like Matt's strength is Astronomy, and when he picks his picture, peers at it and smiles, Cat is beside herself. It just fits in with her image of him as someone who gets everything in life so easily. Cat's picture, however, gives her a lot to think about:

The picture was worse than I thought.
Naked Neanderthals.
No, I take it back. Not Neanderthals, but something even more ancient--Homo erectus, to be exact. Early hominins from 1.8 million years ago, the caption said. Great. Highly relevant to my own life, not to mention my fig wasps.

At first she is lost in self-doubt. Then she takes a good look at the woman Neanderthal:

And she was thin. Not emaciated, fashion-model thin, but that good muscular thin like you see on women athletes. She looked like she could run and hunt and fight just as well as the men--maybe even better.
And that's when I realized: I wanted to be her.
Not her in the sense that I wish I had to fight saber-toothed hyenas just to get a decent meal, but her in looks. I want--and I know this sounds incredibly shallow, but science requires the truth--I wouldn't mind for once in my life seeing what it's like to actually look...good. Or at least better than I do right now. Maybe even pretty, if that's possible.

So Cat does some research and finds out what Neanderthals would have eaten at this point in their evolution and she follows the spirit of their diet for the next 7 months. She has to get over her cravings, give up sugar, diet coke, caffeine, crappy foods. She even gives up most forms of technology, although allows herself necessities like running water and cooking with a stove. Her early hypothesis is that modern people have let themselves go soft; they are lazy about what they eat and its led to all types of modern problems like Diabetes and obesity. But this need to be like that Neanderthal woman is at the heart of Cat's new lifestyle.

At about the three-quarter mark in the story, I started to worry that the basic science part of Cat's project was lacking, that she was only doing it to look better. And seriously, like two pages later, her teacher brings this exact idea up with her. Cat's priorities take a turn and it adds this depth to her story that I really appreciated while reading.

Fat Cat is also really funny:

He took me to Goony Golf and we sat up inside the giant Mondo Head in the dark and he kissed me, which I was prepared for, but then he made an unauthorized reach for the breast. Luckily I was wearing my new special sports bra with all the complicated hardware and about fifteen layers of fabric between me and the outside world, impervious to both nuclear weapons and unauthorized groping, and when I pushed Greg away and said, "What are you doing?" he answered, "Come on, babe, I love you"...

My favourite character is Nick, Cat's classmate. He's a science brain and keeps to his own during school season but in the summer he's a "major hound dog", hooking up with science geek babes at summer camp. He and Cat have a fling in the book and it's the funniest section.
I really enjoyed Cat's transformation. It was subtle and I knew what was probably going to happen by the end, but the way Robin gets us there is the real story. I felt happy for Cat by the end and kind of pumped to eat apples slathered in peanut butter.

One more hilarious quote to finish off this review:

Research Project, Phase II: Effects on male population of changes in female appearance. Experiment #1...

The question is, can I do this right? There are so many variables when you start involving other people. It isn't like working with fig wasps. I can't just crush boys into a petri dish and extract their DNA. Or really, in this case, their whole psychological makeup.
But it's like what Einstein said: "If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research, would it?"



Andrea said...

I didn't know that Robin Brande had a new book out either. I loved Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature and I'm going to add this one to my list right now. Thanks!

Mandy said...

Andrea: Check back again because I think I'm going to make a Fat Cat giveaway. :)

Briana said...

Wow! This book sounds like something I would really enjoy! I just requested it from the library a few days ago without knowing what it was really about, but I am so glad I read this review! It sounds fantastic! I cant wait to read it!! Great review, Mandy! :)


Tales of Whimsy said...

Interesting premise!

Misty said...

"I had read her first book, Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature in one sitting at the library last year. I was browsing the shelves and picked it up at random, thought I'd just read the first chapter to get a feel, and found myself a few hours later having finished it."

Wow. That speaks volumes. Think I'm going to have to look that one up.

Unknown said...

This sounds like a book I'd thoroughly enjoy, although I probably wouldn't have picked it up on my own. Keep adding to my list and I'll never make it out... ;)


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