Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"The Sign of the Cat"

Lynne Jonell is the author of the novels Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls, and The Secret of Zoom, as well as several critically acclaimed picture books. Her books have been named Junior Library Guild Selections and a Smithsonian Notable Book, among numerous other honors. Born in Little Falls, Minnesota, Jonell grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis. She now teaches writing at the Loft Literary Center and lives with her husband and two sons in Plymouth, Minnesota, in a house on a hill.

Jonell applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, The Sign of the Cat, and reported the following:
From page 69:
A faint mutter of conversation came floating up the stairs from the kitchen below. Suddenly he heard his mother saying, sharply, "No. I'm not going to tell him yet."

The front door closed. The double lock clicked twice. Through Duncan's open window came the quick tap of footsteps in the street, rapidly fading away.

Duncan awoke to a thin crack of sun, piercing through a gap in the curtains. He had been dreaming again, that same dream of the bright window high in the dark. This time, though, something had been chasing him. He got up abruptly and pushed the hair out of his eyes. The dream was already fading, leaving nothing but a faint memory of dread.

Downstairs, Grizel was happily crunching something in her bowl—sardines, by the smell—and there were rolls and fresh fruit on the table, along with a note. It said that his mother had gone to her first music lesson of the day, but she’d packed Duncan a lunch and hoped he would have a good day at school and remember to buckle his cap.

Duncan stared at the food. Fresh fish, rolls from the bayside bakery, fruit from the wharfside grocers-- his mother must have gotten up very early indeed, if she had walked all the long way down to the wharf and back up the long hill.

He sat down to eat and studied the note again. There was nothing about where she had gotten the money for food. Nothing about the strange visitor of the night before.
Well, given that it’s only one page, this isn’t too bad!

Page 69 of The Sign of the Cat evokes a sense of mystery, which is at the heart of the book. There is a secret visitor in the night, and we see that although Duncan’s mother loves him enough to make a long trip so he can have breakfast, she is also hiding some crucial bit of information from him. We also see that they are poor, which tugs at the reader, and the dream gives a sense of foreboding.

What’s missing is the sea, the talking cats, and any sense of humor!

We get a small hint of the sea when the word “bayside” is used to identify the bakery, and a wharf certainly suggests water and boats. But we get no real sense of the swashbuckling, seafaring adventure that is to come.

Further, Grizel, Duncan’s cat, is so busy munching the sardines in her bowl that she doesn’t speak; if you were to look at page 69 alone you might not realize this very important aspect of the book. Much of the humor comes from the cats and their interactions with humans, so without a talking cat on the page the reader can’t realize just how playful certain parts of the book are.

All in all, though, I think page 69 is fairly representative of The Sign of the Cat. I’m pleasantly surprised to see that there was so much that could be inferred from just one random page.
Visit Lynne Jonell's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Sign of the Cat.

--Marshal Zeringue