these photos were taken from a physical arc, and don’t do any justice to the actual illustrations and color palette, which is more like this
this book is one of those graphic novels that uses anthropomorphized creatures to address real-world situations. but unlike The Complete Maus, in this one the cat gets to be our heroine. and i am on board with catgirls as heroines.
i’m pretty sure this is intended for a young adult audience, as it concerns the typical YA theme of “the journey of self-discovery.” it follows the experiences of a young catgirl named henni, an inquisitive soul born into a constraining society, as she enters the wider world for the first time, ripping the veils away from everything she has been taught along the way. it’s about toppling superstitions, unmasking corrupt spiritual leaders, art used as revolution, religion misused as crowd control, the socially imposed limitations of gender, strength in the face of injustice and choosing one’s own path.
henni starts out the book as a young and carefree creature, shown joyfully chasing a dragonfly, innocent enough to be genuinely shocked by her father’s lie to her mother that they were going to temple, when he was really going to talk to some guy. in a mere five panels, her illusions of marriage are shattered.
shortly after arriving home, her father is sold out by her mother, stuffed in a bag by cruel men, and mutilated. henni is told by her mother: Don’t you dare cry. He brought this on himself.
years pass, but henni retains her curiosity and her spirit. she has always been a high-spirited catgirl; always questioning, always having difficulty with the “obedience” part of her role as a woman. she is told that it was a waste for her father to have taught a mere girl to write, told that she should just be quiet and obedient, told that the elders would make all decisions for her, through divine guidance.
she is apprehensive about her upcoming arranged marriage, and mistrusts the unfair traditions she has been told to obey.
henni begins her solitary quest away from her homeland after seeing something she shouldn’t have seen and subsequently doing something she shouldn’t have done. she meets an unexpected ally who saves her from punishment and sets her on her path, which first takes her to another village much like her own (except with rounded rather than pointy rooftops), but steeped in the same hypocritical and self-serving leadership
the scoffing of the “primitive” by the “civilized”
and the unfair treatment of women.
henni’s stubborn resistance to blind subservience lands her in trouble again, but this time, she is resourceful and clever enough to talk her way out of punishment on her own, using the leaders’ own xenophobia against them.
but she hasn’t become wicked, she has just learned how to play the game.
the final part of this book involves henni’s meeting the rebel known as “the disruptor” who teaches her that there’s a difference between obeying and agreeing and gives her a gift—a special and personal item that fills her with hope and purpose, her adventure presumably to be continued in another volume.
it’s a charming and occasionally very dark little book. its themes are treated a little shallowly for the adult reader, but henni’s transformation from questioning being to acting being is well-handled, and there is one scene in particular where she is balancing her impulse to help someone against her instinct for self-preservation and her respect for the traditions of others that is very effective.
i would be interested in seeing where the rest of the story goes.