The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook
, a novel for children by Joanne Rocklin, follows protagonist Oona, who is grieving the loss of her father, who died two years before the novel begins. At the center of the plot is the rescue cat Zook, whom Oona and her brother, Fred rescued in the alley behind their apartment. When Zook is diagnosed with kidney failure and has to have regular dialysis, Dylan, a charming young veterinary technician joins the family. Skeptical of Dylan and worried about Zook, Oona comes up with a number of fanciful and imaginative stories about Zook and his nine lives, Dylan's role in Zook's illness, and much more.The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook
begins with the stories ten-year-old Oona tells to her five-year-old brother Fred about their rescue cat Zook. They found Zook in the alley behind their house and named him after fried zucchini. He became a beloved addition to their family, and Oona loves to tell Fred stories of Zook's life before he came to them—because all cats have nine lives, especially when they have as many extra toes as Zook does.
Underscoring these playful stories about Zook is grief that haunts Oona, Fred, and their mother. Two years before, Oona's father died, leaving the children with only one parent. Oona takes on her father's role as the family's storyteller, creating huge “whoppers” that her brother Fred often believes. However, beneath her father's legacy of telling wild tales lies grief the family has to face and struggles to overcome. This is particularly challenging when Zook develops health problems that threaten his life, and the children have to wrestle with the possibility of losing another precious member of the family.
The primary conflict in the novel involves Zook, who becomes sick with kidney disease. The vet prescribes daily kidney dialysis to keep Zook alive. During this time, Oona starts telling Fred the stories of Zook's many lives—the five lives he had before this one. The kidney dialysis also introduces a new character into the mix, Dylan, a veterinary technician. Charming, Dylan soon wins over Oona's mother, but to Oona, Dylan is only a villain.
Oona has a system for telling her whoppers that it is color-coded. She labels certain stories blue, black, red, white, or yellow, depending on their purpose and their significance. One of these whoppers—a big one—is her story about Dylan. Dylan is kind and charming. He plays guitar and is kind to Zook. Nevertheless, Oona hates him; she tells a story that back in the day, Dylan was the person who used to shoot Zook with a BB gun in the alley. As everyone else falls in love with him, she portrays Dylan as a monster, isolating her from her family during a period of grief.
Often compared to Harriet the Spy, Oona is spunky and always has theories and evidence to back up the stories she tells herself and others about the world. However, Dylan forces Oona to reconsider her motives and her evidence. As she and Fred come to terms with their beloved Zook's mortality and their father's recent death, Dylan becomes less a villain and more a figure of hope.
Born in Montreal, Quebec, Joanna Rocklin now lives in northern California with her family. She has written a number of novels for children, many inspired by the animals in her life, particularly her cats. Some of her titles include Fleabrain Loves Franny
and Love, Penelope.
She also writes early readers and picture books, including This Book is Haunted
and One Hungry Cat
. The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook
won a number of awards, including a 2012 Parent's Choice Gold Award, a 2013 Golden Kite Award for Fiction, and a number of state awards in Vermont, Illinois, Texas, Kansas, and Florida, among others. The book was inspired by Rocklin's own cat, Mitzie.