cover image The Cat King of Havana

The Cat King of Havana

Tom Crosshill. HarperCollins/Tegen, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-242283-5

Cat video entrepreneur Rick Gutiérrez seeks change after his girlfriend dumps him on his 16th birthday. Rick joins a salsa band and meets dancer and filmmaker Ana, who is dealing with complicated family problems. Eager to spend more time with Ana and to explore his deceased mother’s Cuban heritage, Rick invites Ana for a summer of salsa lessons in Havana. Living with his aunt and two cousins, Rick and Ana learn that communism is not as equitable as Aunt Juanita believes. When cousin Yolanda asks the two to help a kidnapped blogger, they are threatened, endangering themselves and Rick’s family, even as Rick attempts to search for his mother’s first love and uncover the truth behind her defection during the 1980 Mariel boatlift. Breaking the fourth wall, Rick speaks directly and engagingly to readers, infusing Crosshill’s first YA novel with wry, self-effacing humor. The breezy pace and descriptions of Cuban culture soften the serious issues at hand—supply shortages, imprisonment, and secret police. Despite an improbable ending worthy of a viral video itself, Crosshill’s big-hearted novel shines. Ages 13–up. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary. (Sept.)