Throwing the unwanted cat off the bridge and into a river? Yeah, I could have lived without that brutal opening. But it certainly does set the frank, sometimes harsh tone of The Cats of Roxville Station, by Jean Craighead George.
When Rachet is abandoned as a young cat, she needs to learn how to live on her own. Of course, she’s not really on her own, given the other stray cats and the wild animals making their homes near the train station. Instinctively, she is able to navigate the social order of the feline set and avoid the dangers of the forest creatures. She even begins to make a human friend, fighting against her best instinct that humans are cruel.
This is no Disney movie. The animals don’t speak to each other in witty jabs using popular references. Instead of adapting their language to ours, the author describes their communication — allowing us to speak cat. Rachet smells danger on the breeze and tracks the movement of a mouse with her steady eyes. She conveys her lower rank in the cat hierachy with a lowered tail.
Queenella’s black pupils nearly filled her green irises, expressing anger. She crouched and looked away, tilting her head slightly. That head movement warned Rachet that she was on Queenella’s property and that she, Queenella, would fight for it. Through her whiskers and nose, ears, and eyes, Rachet learned that the big black-and-white cat, Queenella, was the high-ranking one — the boss cat.The commentary is left for the humans, mainly a boy named Mike who would like to have a cat. Breaking up a fight between a big dog and Rachet, Mike becomes especially interested in this little cat. Unfortunately his foster mother won’t tolerate a cat in the home, and Mike can’t imagine convincing her otherwise.
With an omnipotent narrator, we see the lives of all the cats and some of the humans as Rachet grows up. There were times in the text where the educational aspect felt a bit forced into the story, but it was a small price to pay for learning more about the ways of cats. Interesting and enjoyable book for cat lovers.
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