The Cats We Meet Along the Way by Nadia Mikail
Synopsis: As the end of the world draws near, 17-year old Aisha and her mother are determined to find June, her sister who left home two-years ago, so they embark on a road-trip through Malaysia with Aisha’s boyfriend and his parents.
What drew me to this book was the cats promised in the title and the bright illustrations on the cover, but what kept me reading was the honest, reflective, and moving story within. Written by an undergraduate student, this Young Adult novel stands out from the rest, as the author’s voice is genuine and youthful yet equally skilled and lyrical.
Mikail took what could have been cringe-worthy, overused tropes such as flashbacks, melodrama, and dreams, and set them to a premise that ignited them instead into heartfelt necessities to the story. With the imminent end of the world, it’s understandable that the characters are longing to feel every moment in minute detail, and to pour over old memories, as they know there is no time to make new ones.
The fear, grief, and urgency that underpins each scene heightened every emotion felt, by both reader and characters alike. This made the protagonist a refreshing one, as her flaws were increasingly revealed to us. Her raw experience of anger, and her subsequent guilt (or at times, lack thereof), didn’t make her unlikeable, however. Rather the opposite, we gain compassion for her, and a new understanding of her perspective.
Understanding is a running theme throughout this novel, between the characters as well as for the reader. From being set in Malaysia, to featuring two families from different cultures, we are continuously exposed to new buildings, towns, foods, and habits, all in wonderfully genuine detail. It was so refreshing and inspiring that it left me thinking the British YA scene definitely needs more books set in different countries and cultures.
My only critique of this book would be the lack of cats promised, and the potentially misleading title (they only met one cat, and it wasn’t even on the way!). However, this detail doesn’t hinder my rating of the book and, I would still thoroughly recommend this novel.
To conclude, yes, this book is set at the end of the world, but it’s not about the end of the world. It’s about family, connections, what we do with our lives, and what really matters.