Kit doesn’t care about much of anything. Life in his low-rent part of town is rough, but it mostly passes him by. Then one summer his brother kicks him out of the house for two hours and Kit discovers a world of homeless cats. Soon he is feeding almost twenty of them, which catches the eye of both his mother, who orders him to stop, and Jess, a cool girl who hangs out with a tough group of guys. As tensions build, Kit feels trapped between doing what is right for the cats and the local cat lady he befriends and doing what is easiest to get by in the world.
Kevin C. Pyle
Ages 13+, grades 8-12
Henry Holt, September 2009, ISBN: 978-0-8050-8285-2
144 pages, $12.99
Pyle’s Katman succeeds because of its honesty. He doesn’t try to make it an afterschool special kind of story, where the choices are easy and right and wrong are clear. Almost no one in Kit’s world is doing much for the cats, so he could choose to also do nothing and he would be no different than the adults around him. But that choice would leave him miserable and guilt-ridden. By choosing to help the cats, though, he also chooses to lie, steal, and associate with people on the fringes of society, which makes it likely that he too will become an outcast. Pyle is careful to show that Kit is torn by what he must choose. Those around him are equally caught. The cat lady no longer trusts people, having learned that they will turn on you much quicker than a animal will. Kit’s mom and brother are simply trying to survive in a situation they hate. Jess and her friends are trying to be cool and fit in, while not wanting to fit in with everyone else. All of these emotions are real and believable and Pyle brings them fully to life.
The art is as rough-edged as the characters, which is fitting for the story. People are drawn in loose, awkward, almost harsh lines which highlight the difficulties of their lives. Backgrounds are rough and gritty. Pyle’s color palette is a stroke of brilliance. He starts off with a simple grey and white and black, but gradually begins to add in more reds as the story progresses. At first the color is just a murky brown, but it builds in intensity, until the end where the grey has been completely replaced by rusts and reds. The comics drawn by artist Jess are the impetus for that. Her Katman stories are drawn in red and black and white and as Kit comes to think of himself as being strong like the Katman character, his world becomes infused with color.
Katman is a strong story, but a hard read. It’s not for readers unfamiliar with the comic medium, but it is also not for readers looking for something quick and easy to breeze through. Pyle requires his readers to think and to do that, they have to pay attention to details in the text and panels. But for readers wanting a realistic story where a teen himself is the superhero simply by doing what he is able to do, they will find in Katman a character to admire.
This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Henry Holt.