‘There’s a catfish under the islands of Japan. That’s what shakes everything up: the catfish twisting and turning in the mud beneath us. It rolls and the ground trembles, water crashes, time cracks and breaks. I hate that catfish.’
This mysterious opening by Clara Kumagai’s debut YA novel, Catfish Rolling, drew me in from the first page. As an avid-lover of science fiction and dystopian reads, this book did not disappoint. Sora, her Canadian-born father and Japanese-born mother live in Japan. One day, whilst at the market with her father, an earthquake strikes. This, however, is no ordinary earthquake. This event ends up changing time itself by tilting the earth slightly off its axis – creating ‘slow’ and ‘fast’ zones where time moves more slowly or quickly than normal. Sora’s mother is sadly lost in the quake, driving Sora and her father on to find out more about the zones, searching for answers. Will Sora’s daring explorations lead her to her mother? Will Sora’s scientist father find the answer to what really happens in the ‘zones’ before it’s too late?
Identity, family and loss are key themes running throughout the novel where myth, fantasy and scientific discovery collide. Sora struggles with her own identity throughout the novel – feeling somewhat adrift from her peers, half Canadian and half Japanese but not feeling that she truly fits into either space. Whilst she struggles to socially connect with her peers, she discovers a unique ability to travel in and out of the zones, able to feel the distinct shifts in time. This connection within a state of disconnect would be an interesting theme to explore with more mature readers. The scientific themes of time would also be interesting to further investigate. What could possibly happen if the earth were to be tilted slightly from its axis? What are the other potential effects?
Catfish Rolling is a savvy, fast-paced novel that will engage mature readers and easily devoured in a single sitting. Clara Kumagai herself is from Canada, Japan and Ireland and writes with a sense of knowing, an own voice novel relating to her own identity and experience. Kumagai is one to watch, with such a powerfully crafted and original debut novel, I wait in anticipation for her next work to be published!
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