Clare is a cat who spends her time searching for food, dodging other cats, and looking for a place to curl up and sleep. But Clare is no ordinary cat. She used to be an American teenage girl, but after being hit by a truck while texting, Clare finds herself reincarnated as a stray living in the middle of Israel’s war-torn West Bank. Thanks to Deborah Ellis’s skilful writing, this implausible scenario is surprisingly believable and provides young readers with a unique introduction to a complex situation.
The action moves back and forth between Clare’s previous life in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and the West Bank, revealing her dry sense of humour and self-obsession in equal measure. In Israel, feline Clare finds refuge with two Israeli soldiers who are hiding in a tiny Palestinian home. Before long, Clare and the soldiers discover a frightened young boy, Omar, also hiding in the house. The cat is at first annoyed by the soldiers, as they discuss what to do with Omar (they don’t want to hurt him), but she comes to bond with the three humans in different ways, even nudging Omar’s asthma inhaler into view when he has difficulty breathing.
Omar recites the Max Ehrmann poem “Desiderata” repeatedly, as a kind of meditative prayer, which prods the cat’s memories of life as a human. Flashbacks focus on Clare’s personal war with a teacher she calls Ms. Zero, who dealt with the girl’s bullying and misbehaviour by making her write out copies of “Desiderata” by hand as punishment. The poem had little impact on Clare as a human, but its meaning slowly unfolds for her as her attitude shifts from one concerned with self-preservation to a realization, after helping her human co-habitants, that, “in that little place, for those little moments, I actually did something good.”
Ellis’s tone is deceptively light, and Clare’s transformation helps introduce the serious issues at hand. The feline’s perspective allows the author to tell a balanced tale that isn’t concerned with who is good or bad, but rather with what we can all do to try to make the world a better, more peaceful place for everyone.