The Cat I Never Named: A True Story of Love, War, and Survival

Bloomsbury. Sept. 2020. 384p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781547604531.
Gr 8 Up–Sabic-El-Rayess, a Bosnian Muslim teenage girl, was in danger when the Bosnian War (1992–95) made its way to her home city of Biha. Her memoir begins in 1992; the first chapter details her homecoming from Belgrade, Serbia. Her parents, who fiercely believed in the power of education, had sent their daughter away for school. Upon returning to Biha, Sabic-El-Rayess found that things had quickly changed. School was suspended, her Serbian friends disowned her before moving away, and bombings became a regular occurrence. Food was in short supply, and family and friends died. Yet there was one small constant source of hope: an ever-present cat that saved her family’s life several times over the six years chronicled in the text. Moving chronologically, the climactic events follow the time line of the war. Sabic-El-Rayess’s experience spotlights a significant historical event that may be unfamiliar to the target audience. She comprehensively addresses politics, genocide, rape camps, self-preservation, and, through it all, still being a teenager. Her prose balances verve and gentleness as she discusses the horrors of war alongside moments of levity, be it the cat or a love interest. The narrative is an innately human experience set against a backdrop of destruction and hatred. Her family’s survival will pull readers into an emotional tale.
VERDICT A hopeful story of a girl’s survival and ultimate success. A must-read nonfiction addition to all libraries.

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