Sometimes I read an opening line or a first chapter of a book that is so good I’m convinced I’m in for an excellent read — and then everything goes downhill from there. But Cattywampus is what I always hope a book will be: great from the first word, amazing by the end.
Author: Ash Van Otterloo
Quick Pitch: Two tween witches must overcome the rivalry between them, and come into their own magic, in order to save their town from a zombie horde of their feuding ancestors
Why it’s diverse: Intersex protagonist, Appalachian cast and culture, diverse cast (lgbt parents and Deaf secondary character)
CWs: mentions of death, mild gore, some intense/scary scenes
Rating: 5/5 rambunctious pet racoons
Cattywampus is the debut novel of author Ash Van Otterloo. It follows the stories of Delpha McGill and Katybird Hearn, two young witches who are trying to come into their magic — and not kill each other in the process. When a hex gone awry causes all the past McGill and Hearn witches to resurrect as zombies, all intent on destroying each other and the entire surrounding town, the girls must put aside their differences to make things right. With the help of a few friends like Katy’s pet racoon, Podge, and their ever-optimistic classmate, Tyler, the girls just might be able to master their magic and save the ones they love.
It’s always exciting to see a queer author writing queer* middle grade. My heart gave a little flutter when Tyler’s two moms appeared. But Katybird was something special. While coming out stories are always important, it was so refreshing to read about a character who already loved and accepted her intersex self — it was society and cultural norms/expectations that made her doubt herself. I espeically loved that the magical elements of the story weren’t not just an addition or an aside, but were seamlessly interwoven into the narrative’s overall themes of identity exploration. (*it should be noted that not all intersex people identify as part of the queer/lgbt+ community).
It hurts me a little to think that the fantastic voice Otterloo created in Cattywampus won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, because I want to drink several pots. The story was told from both Delpha’s and Katybird’s point of view, and each girl felt distinct from the start. But both points of view were also wrapped in an Appalachian charm that was as immersive as it was fun to read. I cannot count the number of creative similes that made me grin (and would definitely be posting them here if this wasn’t an e-arc copy).
Honestly, I really have no complaints about Cattywampus. Perhaps the magic system was a little soft and not completely explained, but it didn’t have to be. This was a story about emotional growth, magic was just used to highlight that (and be awesome. Who doesn’t want to puppet master an outhouse or commune with forest spirits?). The pacing was spot on, the friendships made my heart absolutely glow. Enough said.
Cattywampus is my favourite book I’ve read so far this year. I would recommend it to anyone 8+. Cattywampus releases on August 4, 2020, so make sure to preorder it now!
eARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss+ in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect the contents of my review.