THE UPSIDE DOWN CAT by Elizabeth Parsons


Email this review


It's a trifling, gimmicky title for a tender/gruff little story of the sort that DeJong once wrote--and one that, given the resonance of the writing, Sendak might fittingly have illustrated. The cat is Lily Black--""as white as a lily, and as black as charcoal."" In the winter she lives in a tucked-away house in New York--where she often lies on a hot-air register, ""looking at the life going on in the kitchen below,"" upside down. In the summers, however, the family goes to Maine: ""So Lily Black had two lives. She had the good, protected city life in the winter, and every summer it was exchanged for the free country life."" But the summer that Joe, the boy in the family, is ten, Lily Black wanders off and gets lost. And the family must leave (""It couldn't be helped""), torn between fear that she's dead and fear that she isn't. Lily White finds a fisherman's shack; she recognizes a friend in old Henry, who comes periodically to tend his lobster traps; he introduces her to the pleasures of boats; and, come next summer, ""guess what happened."" Joe, still hoping, is out in his boat; Lily White, ""sitting bolt upright on the stern deck"" of Henry's, does know him; and Henry quickly, too quickly, hands her over. But whose cat is she, properly, now? Parsons doesn't make Henry an object of pity, nor does she strike Joe with contrition. There's a short, quiet lapse of time--while the two, without strain, become comrades--and then Joe speaks up. And Henry, with just a little quaver, sets him almost at ease. The avoidance of dramatics, the very delicate balance between losing and gaining, between giving up and taking, is just the most obvious merit of the book.

Pub Date: March 16th, 1981
Publisher: Atheneum