Catfishing on CatNet (CatNet #1) by Naomi Kritzer (author), Casey Turner (narrator), Corey Gagne (narrator) (Audible Studios, November 2019)
By Lis Carey: Steph Taylor and her mother move a lot–roughly every six months or so; sometimes more often. And they don’t make friends anywhere; that’s her mom’s choice. They’re in hiding from Steph’s stalker father, who burned down their house when she was a small child, and has been chasing them ever since.
At least, that’s her mother’s story, and Steph remembers just enough that she believes it. Her father is dangerous.
So Steph doesn’t have a smartphone, just an old-fashioned flip phone. She can’t post any selfies online, or her real name, or her location. They don’t stay anywhere long enough for her to make friends, and if she did, she wouldn’t be allowed to stay in touch with them when they move again, anyway. Instead, she has her friends on CatNet, her favorite online site. On CatNet, she’s Little Brown Bat, and all the friends in her “clowder” have similarly anonymous handles. That includes a moderator, CheshireCat.
One of the things Steph doesn’t know is that CheshireCat is an AI — a real, intelligent, full-person AI.
Another thing she doesn’t know is just how dangerous her father really is, or why.
But after their latest move, landing them in a little town where the high school only has two years of Spanish, and has a robot teaching sex ed, Steph starts to make a few real friends. And between her school friends, and her CatNet friends, she winds up hacking the sex ed robot so that CheshireCat can take it over and give real, and accurate, answers to the students’ sex ed questions.
This, of course, blows up into not just a school scandal, but “hits the national news because it’s so strange and funny and alarming” viral news story.
And that attracts attention Steph and her mother really, really didn’t need.
We get the story, in alternating chapters, from Steph and from CheshireCat. And CheshireCat, while having effectively unlimited information, has only been in operation for five years, and doesn’t have nearly enough experience with people and the outside world to handle some of what’s coming at them. This includes the secrets Steph’s mother has been keeping from her, why her father is so dangerous, and who, exactly, created the CheshireCat AI.
The characters are diverse and interesing and very individual. The teenagers feel like real teenagers, and the parents we meet aren’t cookie-cutter, either. It’s an exciting, satisfying YA adventure. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to the next one.