REVIEW: Fat Cat by Robin Brande

Yes, yes, I know I questioned whether I could talk about specific books anymore, now that I'm working on the publishing side of the aisle...but I just have to chat about this one.

I got a galley for Fat Cat by Robin Brande ages ago at a Random House preview and, I have to admit, I sort of tossed it aside. To be even more honest, I dismissed it as a "weight loss" book - or, worse, a "fat girl" book - which just didn't sound interesting to me.

Oh, how WRONG I was and happy to be so. This, my friends, is a book for foodies! Cat is passionate about science, and she's funny and kind. She's also fat. When Cat needs to find a topic for the competitive science fair, she turns herself into an experiment, reverting to the ways in which early hominids lived. She stops eating as much processed foods as possible and begins cooking for herself. Even more, she can't use the microwave, only the stove to the stimulate fire. She can't drive - she walks everywhere (with some exceptions).

Not surprisingly, her weight drops off. The surprising result is that her relationships evolve as well - guys that never used to pay attention to her are suddenly taking notice, and the childhood friend who made fun of her weight has his eye on her too. Again, I think this part of the book could have gone bad under a different author's watch: now Cat is "HOT" and, see, isn't being beautiful and thin so great? But it doesn't go there. Cat is insecure and unsure; she takes all the attention in stride and applies scientific principles to all the ways in which her life is changing. Additionally, the relationships and friendships in the book are really wonderful - I love that there isn't a single "mean girl" in the whole book...and what a sad commentary on current trends that I found it both surprising and refreshing.

Like I said, this is a food book. Cat isn't DIETING - she's discovering the pleasures and beauty of fresh food, recipes, and cooking. Her family is supportive, and her little brother even more so since he is overweight as well. And I appreciated the other aspects of Cat's experience: in addition to Cat seeing a nutritionist, her changing digestive system is even given some page time. This is great - the reader gets to see what a changing diet will really do for a person. It's not about just losing weight; instead, it's a whole body experience. Brande also manages to describe Cat's life changes without getting too preachy, and she achieves this because she addresses the joy and pleasure of the whole experience.

Where I felt the book did get preachy was when Cat ponders the pros, cons, and ethics of going vegetarian. Brande's bias (I believe it was bias) come through loud and clear. There is a scene when Cat and the nutritionist are talking about factory farms: Cat has done lots of research about the topic. So Cat comes to the conclusion that, because factory farms are so evil (they are), then vegetarianism is the only option. I really disagree with that, as you can imagine: it's an extremist view that doesn't take every side into account. First, there is no discussion of locavorism and pasture-fed, pasture-raised, non-CAFO animals...and for a protagonist who so loves science and research, I found it unbelievable that Cat wouldn't have considered this in the discussion. Second, there really isn't any discussion of eggs and dairy. Where does Cat stand on those issues? Lastly, I was annoyed that a nutritionist, while talking vegetarianism with a patient, wouldn't talk about all these things and provide more balanced, unbiased information. A teenager inspired to consider vegetarianism after reading this book would need much, much more information. Now, I understand that it might seem odd to want all these things in the book but it's not all about me: I found the lack of this information inconsistent with Cat's scientific nature.

All that said, in the advanced readers' copy, there is a "further reading" section that includes Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, both by Michael Pollan and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Excellent recommendations, especially for those considering vegetarianism.

Overall, I was thrilled to be proven wrong on this book. Smart, strong, and confident characters combined with a joy of eating, cooking, and food make for a fantastic read.

Eat, drink, and celebrate food in books for teens.

Note: Find more reviews of this book at Lauren's Crammed Bookshelf, Mrs. Magoo Reads, Reading Rants!, and Sarah Miller's blog.


Wendy said...

Oh, yeah, you've sold me. It sounds great.

It's interesting, there's a passage in her EVOLUTION... that I found similarly didactic/biased (and it sounds like a very similar scene) that sort of spoiled things for me. I want to compare.

Beth S. said...

Oh thank you so much for reviewing this book. I never would have picked it up had you not talked about why it's a book for foodies. Adding it to my "Must read" list!

Unknown said...

Wendy, you've sold me on Evolution - I've been wanting to read it for ages, and now I want to compare.

I really did love this book because Brande captures so well how complicated, emotional, and entangled we have made food to be. Is Cat changing her diet for scientific purposes? Is she changing for herself? For others? Cat never seems to figure out, and I love that. So true to life.

Okay, I'll stop gushing now...