So here’s how it is. Natalie Ng's family are all Talented. Her super-genius younger sister can vanish like a chameleon. Her beautiful older sister can levitate objects and knows if someone is lying. Even her dad has a supersensitive nose. Middle-kid-to-the-nth-degree Nat has a Talent too, but it's seriously Grade B, as in B-oring. She can speak to cats.
This is not a gift Nat particularly wants anyone to know about, fearing social death and everyone calling her Cat Girl. Her best friends Oscar (outrageous gay side-kick) and Mellie (gorgeous movie-star-to-be) know, but that's it. Yet when a celebrity-gossip blogger is kidnapped – replaced, her pet cat screams, by an imposter – it’s only Nat who understands. You know at the start that the three friends will end up saving the day, but along the way there are twists, turns, surprises, a startling number of cats – and a story that kept me reading (and giggling) without pausing for breath or bathroom breaks.
The characters were similarly both familiar and surprising. Nat on the one hand fits the mold of the odd-girl heroine, but she never became a stock character. She felt powerfully real – so real I truly cared what happened between her and (*sigh*) Ian, and I really wanted her family to see her in a new light. Oscar and Mellie likewise – in the hands of a lesser writer, they both could have been clichés, but Pauley infused them with full, rich lives and selves. I ended up wishing they were MY best friends, and that I didn’t have to leave them behind when I turned the last page. The urban-fantasy element—that some humans have Talents (not superpowers, Nat’s mother insists)—was utterly believable, and never needed dull exposition to justify its existence.
The (dare I say zany?) madcap adventures in Kimberly Pauley's truly delightful new book are Hughes-ish in the best possible way, happy ending and all. I can’t imagine finding a better beach book this year, but if I were you, I wouldn’t wait until summer to read it.