Catfishing on CatNet

Tor Teen. Nov. 2019. 304p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250165084.
Gr 8 Up–Steph can’t remember the last time she lived somewhere more than a few months. Her only solace is the online society CatNet where people chat and post pictures of animals. However, one of her seemingly innocent CatNet acquaintances, CheshireCat, knows everything about Steph and the online community. They know where everyone lives, what their hobbies are, and can probably even hack into their computers. CheshireCat is an empathetic cognizant AI, and when a harmless prank in the real world leads Steph down a dangerous rabbit hole, CheshireCat may be the only friend able to help. Kritzer envisions a not-to-distant future in which coding and ethics are combined to create an AI with attachments to humans. Providing a new twist on AI’s, the promising setup initially falls short. Lacking underlying tension, Steph’s introduction to a new town moves sluggishly, though alternating chapters between Steph, CheshireCat, and the CatNet group chat help pick up the pace as the perspectives switch more frequently later on. Feeling quite human at times, the sentient AI is easily lovable and fits in perfectly with their human friends. Aside from a few obvious mistakes the characters make when dealing with tracking and hacking, readers will root for Steph and her inclusive CatNet cohort to succeed.
VERDICT An intriguing concept that is a good pick for larger libraries and readers captivated with unique AI tales.

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