Catfishing on CatNet: Tense, exciting, and delightful

Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsCatfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviews young adultCatfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer

In this worthy Nebula (Andre Norton Award) finalist by Naomi Kritzer we meet Steph, a girl who has spent most of her life on the run with her mother. According to her mom, Steph’s abusive father is extremely dangerous and, after spending a couple of years in jail for arson, he’s stalking them. Steph and her mom keep fleeing to small towns, trying to get lost, but eventually her mom gets nervous again and wants to move on. This means that Steph keeps starting at new schools and never has time to settle in and make friends. Her mom, anxious and paranoid, is not a good source of comfort or companionship.

Steph’s only source of stability is CatNet, a social media site where users are assigned by the site’s administrators to chat rooms called Clowders. At CatNet, Steph is known as LittleBat and she has a close relationship with the other teens in her Clowder. When Steph has to move to yet another school in the middle of her senior year of high school, her CatNet friends are there to support her emotionally. When she and her mom are again threatened by her scary father, her CatNet friends are willing to help… even if this means coming out from behind their computer screens.

Catfishing on CatNet (2019) is tense, exciting, and delightful all the way through. The plot is mysterious and Naomi Kritzer doles out the answers at just the right pace. Is Steph’s father really a bad guy? Is her mom crazy? Are her friends at CatNet real friends? What’s with the CatNet admin named CheshireCat who seems to know everything? Who is the unknown benefactor who keeps fixing things for Steph? And will Steph have to move again, just as she’s finally making a real-life friend at her new school?

The word “catfishing” refers to the practice of establishing a fake social media persona so that you can befriend, take advantage of, deceive, lure, or otherwise trick someone into believing you are someone you’re not. There are several examples of this in Catfishing on CatNet. Some of the characters are catfishing, which is a big part of the mystery and the tension. But other characters are catfishing IRL (in real life) and have found CatNet to be the safest place to be their true selves.

Steph is a hero who’s mostly easy to like. I connected with her immediately and when she later said she hated pep rallies, I knew we would have been friends. There were times, though, that I thought she was insensitive and I was sometimes angry at the way she treated her mother (probably because I am a mother). The other teens are also appealing, though some could be better developed (a little hard when they’re online, I suppose). Steph’s very small group of CatNet friends is sexually diverse, which might seem a little coincidental at first, but later we understand how this happened and it works well with the story’s themes.

One of the major themes in Catfishing on CatNet is online privacy and security. Besides entertaining us, Kritzer teaches us about passwords, hacking, location tracking, IP addresses, Virtual Private Networks, and some of the ethical considerations for artificial intelligence.

I enjoyed the audio edition of Catfishing on CatNet which was produced by Audible Studios and performed by Casey Turner and Corey Gagne. I recommend this version.

Published in 2019. How much does the internet know about YOU? Because her mom is always on the move, Steph hasn’t lived anyplace longer than six months. Her only constant is an online community called CatNet — a social media site where users upload cat pictures — a place she knows she is welcome. What Steph doesn’t know is that the admin of the site, CheshireCat, is a sentient A.I. When a threat from Steph’s past catches up to her and ChesireCat’s existence is discovered by outsiders, it’s up to Steph and her friends, both online and IRL, to save her.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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