A girl tries to break the curse of a legendary Demon Cat in this debut middle-grade novel.
Things are going from bad to worse for Fina Mendoza. After losing her mother to a terminal illness, Fina, a 10-year-old Latina, and her older sister, Gabby, moved from California to Washington, D.C., to live with her kind but preoccupied Papa, a first-term U.S. congressman. One afternoon, while in the deserted, history-filled, basement-floor Crypt museum under the Capitol rotunda, Fina hears odd noises; spots a giant, feline-shaped shadow; and catches a “flash of yellow eyes.” A Capitol policewoman informs her that anyone who sees the fabled Demon Cat of Capitol Hill will be cursed with bad luck. Is that why small disasters are piling up? There’s Abuelita’s broken leg; an injury to the dog Fina was hired to walk; a fight-provoking, shattered spaghetti sauce jar; Gabby’s car mishap; and more. Determined to protect her family from anything worse happening, Fina sets out to learn all she can about the Demon Cat and break the curse, even if no one else believes in it. Engaging authenticity is the hallmark of this well-crafted mystery by Felde, an award-winning public radio journalist, prolific playwright (A Patch of Earth, 2014, etc.), and host of the Book Club for Kids podcast. Fina’s first-person view of Washington, especially the colorful, well-informed environs of Capitol Hill, where her father serves on the Rules Committee—and where she spends her time after school until Papa is done working—rings true. So do the three-dimensional characters: Fina, her warm extended family, her busy but caring Papa, and, through the girl’s memories, her vivacious and loving mother. The author deftly wraps Fina’s quest to solve the Demon Cat mystery into the story of family members doing their best to deal with loss in their separate ways, which are grounded in a strong foundation of love and understanding.
A lively mystery with a touch of spookiness, an intriguing setting, an appealing family dynamic, and an enterprising Latina heroine.