Catfishing on Catnet was one of my favorite books of 2021, though I sadly never got around to reviewing it. Still, I was recently telling a friend about it, and that prompted me to go track down the second volume. I’m so glad I did! This review cannot avoid spoilers from the first book, though I tried my best.
Chaos on Catnet
by Naomi Kritzer
Tom Doherty, 2021.
Read from library copy.
Steph is just getting started at a new high school in Minneapolis under her real name for the first time ever, after the events of Catfishing on Catnet. CheshireCat, the friendly AI who helped her, is stressed about an anonymous message it’s received. Steph’s classmate Nell has just been removed from a cult, after the disappearance of first her mother and then her girlfriend, and is even more traumatized and skittish than Steph.
But all is not well in Minneapolis, where tensions are rising despite some new community-building apps that everyone seems to be playing – and Nell notices that both the deeply conservative Christian app she used to use to contact her girlfriend and the Mischief Elves game (how fun does that sound?) the kids at school play have nearly the same interface. Could it be coincidence that these are happening at the same time that CheshireCat has been contacted by what appears to be another, perhaps sinister, AI?
As with Catfishing on Catnet, Kritzer balances the fast-paced plot, full of danger and twists, with deep and supportive friendships and an exploration of escape from an abusive situation – in this case, the difficulty of leaving a community that had felt like home, even after realizing that it was harmful. But in the meantime, stopping the end times will require a lot of work on the part of CheshireCat and its teen friends – including CheshireCat inhabiting some robot dogs, giant snow sculptures, a valiant rescue, the shock of moving from a conservative household to a polyamorous one, a reimagined Minneapolis police force, and a newly-met car-racing grandmother.
The first book in the duology won lots of awards, but I still feel like these books are underappreciated, at least at my library, considering how fabulous they are. Y’all need to go read these, people, so maybe she’ll write more of them.
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King also has visions of the near future dominated by religious extremism, while (in the same post) The Living by Matt de la Peña is another teen thriller with excellent character development.