Title: Fat Cat
Author: Robin Brande
ISBN: 9780375844492
Pages: 327 pages
Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf, c2009.

That’s when I knew what I should do. I knew if I made this my project, I’d really have to take it seriously. I couldn’t back out. I couldn’t cheat. This would be for a grade and for the science fair, so I’d have to do it for real. Once I committed to it– once I wrote my idea on a piece of paper this afternoon and turned it in alongside everyone else’s research topics–I’d have no choice but to take it all the way.
Mr. Fizer said he wants big ideas. He wants us to be creative and to really push ourselves. He wants us to throw ourselves into our projects, mind and body and soul.
Well, you can’t get more committed than this.
“I’m going to do it,” I told Amanda. “I’m going to become prehistoric.” (11)

Junior Catherine Locke (known as Fat Cat to some of her classmates) is turning herself into a test subject for her science fair project. She’s determined that she will report on the results of living as a cave woman would have, which means no technology, no candy, no processed food, and no transportation (except for emergencies of course). Her friend Amanda thinks she’s crazy, especially considering all the honors and AP classes Cat is already taking. It doesn’t help matters that Amanda enlists her to help save the local vegetarian restaurant where Amanda does Poetry Night every month. After recovering from the initial caffine withdrawls, things go well until her quickly slimming body garners some unwanted attention, especially from ex-friend Matt. Will Cat be able to win the science fair and trounce Matt once and for all, paying him back for the horrible thing he did a few years ago?

Upon reading the back cover, I was surprised that this was the same author who won the 2008 Thumbs Up! Award for her first novel, Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature. Most people have never even heard of this award, and it’s really quite nice that she recognizes her award on the back cover. I also think it’s surprising that she’s a finalist for a second time for her second book. You know you have a quality writer when that happens (either that, or it’s a Michigan favorite?).

And Robin Brande is a quality writer. Her dialogue is snappy and witty, and reads with some marvelous realism. I fell in love with not only Amanda and Cat’s relationship, but also Amanda’s relationship with her boyfriend Jordan. The science fair experiments mentioned in the book are elaborate and involved, putting to shame my attempt in sixth grade to determine whether or not increasing the amount of color dye in water decreased the amount of time it took for the flower to change color. (It does) While sex is mentioned, both Amanda and Cat are set in their opinion to abstain at least until college, which is a refreshing view in teen literature. In one scene, Cat tells an overly interested boy

“Remember I told you I’ve taken a vow of chastity. You understand what that means, right?
“Yeah,” he said. “You’re very generous. I think that’s cool.”
I didn’t quite get his answer, but I didn’t want to prolong the conversation. […]
That’s when it dawned on me what Greg had meant. […] Um, that’s charity, Greg, not chastity.
He is so not the right guy for me.(137-138)

What’s also refreshingly authentic is Cat’s relationship with her parents and brother. While awkward, it’s not to the point of deteriaration, and as her parents are a positive, supportive role models for Cat, Cat returns the support by offering her younger brother nutritional and relationship advice. Although some recipes for Cat’s creations would have been appreciated, she does provide a “for further reading” which details sources for recipes. I espeically appreciate that Cam’s sizes and weights are not specified (with the exception of her bra size), which leaves it to the reader’s imagination how small/big Cam really is.

Cat is a smart, sexy, and self-concious teen, and while she might not be the most popular kid in school, it’s not even mentioned in the book. It focuses on her and her small circle of friends, which is nice that it doesn’t obsess over the cliche cliques. All and all, a wonderful read, and I’m going to have to check out her first book. If it’s anything like this book, I know I’ll fall in love with it just as quickly.