The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook

Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook Book Poster Image
Realistic story of girl coping with sick cat, dad's death.

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age 8+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Oona lives in the urban environment of Oakland, CA, and the characters and settings reflect the city's diversity: She participates in Indian traditional celebrations with her neighbors, learns a smattering of Yiddish from her grandmother, listens to the blues, and works in a pizzeria that serves both Italian and Mexican-style pizza. Oona helps her little brother learn to read by inventing rebuses for him, and she talks about what makes a story successful. Readers will also learn about pets and that it's sometimes necessary to acknowledge their mortality.

Positive Messages

The importance of family, neighbors, and community is emphasized. Everyone watches out for one another, and even when friends or family get into disagreements, they work at resolving them.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ten-year-old Oona has a rating system for her "whoppers" -- some are harmless white lies, some are inventive stories, and others can actually hurt people. She sometimes struggles to follow her conscience, although she does realize that doing the right thing makes her feel better. Oona is observant and has several theories about life that help her define the world around her, but she also learns that there can be danger in pigeonholing people and situations. Her mother understands that much of her rebellious behavior is a reaction to her father's death and helps her find the way to do the right thing.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook is the story of 10-year-old Oona, who is still mourning her father's death two years before and struggling to accept the changes that have occurred since, which sometime lead her to make bad choices. She worries deeply about the aging of her beloved cat, and her anxiety is magnified by something she hasn't told her mother that weighs on her conscience. Oona's efforts to do the right thing are realistically depicted.

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Teen, 13 years old Written byLilypadOasis July 6, 2017

I love this book!

I first read this book in fourth grade, and since then, it has been one of my favorites. It has a great story that is full of heart and gives you all the feels.... Continue reading

What's the story?

Ten-year-old Oona lives in Oakland, CA, with her mother and her little brother. Since her father died, Oona has been given more independence and responsibility: Every day, she picks her brother up from preschool, and together they work at the local pizzeria in exchange for pizza slices. When Oona's beloved cat Zook must go to the vet, she reassures her brother (and herself) that Zook is only on his fifth life, and she proceeds to tell her brother stories about Zook's previous lives, which reflect many aspects of their own. As Zook's seeming recovery gives the family hope, Oona must decide if she can handle her mother meeting a new man, reconcile the fact that it's possible to be happy again after her father dies, and accept that Zook can't live forever.

Is it any good?

As Oona says in her Theory of Story-making that she learned from her dad, "A story doesn't have to be true, but it does have to be real"; by these exacting standards, ZOOK definitely succeeds. Oona's inner struggles are all the more believable because they aren't easy -- even when she knows what she should do to make a situation right, she can't always bring herself to do it, and her quandaries make her a sympathetic, relatable character. Oona defines herself as "a noticer," and she invites the reader to notice right along with her. Her observations about the lively and diverse community of Oakland are delightful, and her stories and theories to fit all situations help both Oona and the reader understand her world, even when the stories don't have happy endings.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Oona tells her brother stories to help them both worry less about their cat Zook. Have you ever had a pet get sick? How did you deal with your own worries?

  • Oona gives her theory of story-making in eight steps. Test it out: Do your favorite books or stories follow these rules?

  • Oona attends her first annaprasan, a Hindu rice-feeding ceremony where her neighbors celebrate the first time their baby eats solid food. Have you ever experienced a new or different cultural tradition through your friends or your community?

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