The second novel in a series is always worse than the first.
Of course that’s not true—unless you replace “always” with “often” or perhaps even “usually.” Or perhaps the wishy-washy “sometimes.” All generalizations are false, as they say. Including this one.
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago in this space I promised to read Chaos on CatNet as soon as it arrived from the library. “The library” in this case turned out to be Goodnow Library, familiar to many of my former students as it’s the town library in Sudbury. Through the interlibrary miracle of the Minuteman Library Network the book has arrived, and I promptly read it.
Executive summary: in most ways it is better than the first volume, Catfishing on CatNet.
This time there are two AIs. The presence of a second one was explicitly foreshadowed at the end of Catfishing, and it becomes immediately clear that he is the antagonist to Cheshire Cat’s protagonist. That’s good fodder for a YA novel. This time there are some new viewpoint characters, which can occasionally be confusing but they’re all clearly labeled. My real question is whether some adults will consider the story to be too dark or too controversial for younger readers—not that the readers will mind, but their elders might, especially in Georgia and Florida where the book is certain to be banned in school libraries.
So, what makes me say that Chaos on CatNet might be too controversial and too dark for conservatives? There are (at least) three reasons:
- They will be upset by the prevalence of lesbians in the novel—especially teenage lesbians. Nothing is explicitly sexual, but the sexuality of many of the characters is open and relevant. Worse yet—worse from the point of view of our hypothetical commenters from Florida and Georgia (I won’t call them readers, since they surely don’t read any of the books they want to burn)—a set of major characters in the novel are complicatedly polyamorous: one of the teens lives with her father, her stepmother, her father’s girlfriend, and her stepmother’s girlfriend. Hard to keep track of the last three, especially since the teen character keeps referring to them as Thing One, Thing Two, and Thing Three.
- Which leads to the second point: one set of “bad guys” in the novel are religious Christian fundamentalists. They are presented very unsympathetically, especially in regard to their treatment of one of the aforementioned teens.
- A third point is that this book is much darker than Catfishing. Aside from the fundamentalists, who are perfectly willing to kill their opponents, we have the following troubling excerpt, about halfway through the story:
When you read this book, be sure to read all the way through, including the author’s note at the end. In particular, I had been wondering about her portrayal of the Minneapolis police force and the memorials to George Floyd. The author’s note explains all.