One minute, Clare is a middle school student in Bethlehem,
Pennsylvania, but the next, she is in Bethlehem—“the real one”—and she’s a cat.
Thus begins Ellis’ thought-provoking and extremely accessible exploration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the eyes of a reflective stray cat (with a wry sense of humor) who finds refuge in a one-room house south of Bethlehem in the West Bank. Two Israeli soldiers, one ignorant and the other wiser and more compassionate, have commandeered it as a surveillance post, but the cat soon realizes there’s a small Palestinian boy hiding beneath the floorboards and having trouble breathing…and where are his parents? Through suspenseful and compelling prose, the author presents the situation with evenhandedness and emphasizes the importance of context; she trusts that young readers can understand a great deal. Even so, the manner in which this story is told skews young, making the treatment of at least one horrific act of violence feel a little superficial. In some ways, the skillfully integrated mirror narrative, that of Clare the girl approximately a year earlier, is more nuanced. Usually an A student and a master at flying under her teachers’ radars while performing small (and large) acts of meanness, when she encounters “Ms. Zero” and accrues 75 detentions (served by copying out the inspirational poem “Desiderata”), everything changes.
Quietly moving, full of surprises and, with
Clare’s colloquial and spirited voice, highly readable. (Fiction.