cover image William's Ninth Life

William's Ninth Life

Minna Jung. Orchard Books (NY), $15.95 (1pp) ISBN 978-0-531-05492-5

First-time author Jung may spark controversy with this exquisitely illustrated but confusing story about an aged cat whose love for an old woman conquers death. William the cat--``skinny, ugly and old,'' just like his fond owner, Elizabeth--receives word that his eighth life is about to end and that it is time to choose his ninth. Although William is offered luxurious new lives, he thinks sorrowfully of what his death would mean to Elizabeth and asks to return to their humble cottage by the sea. Jung, however lyrical a writer, fails to clarify her themes. The message about choosing love over the seductions of exotic riches is occluded by the disquieting discussion of death: the nine-lives motif competes with the need for mourners to come to terms with loss, and it raises upsetting questions about Elizabeth's own imminent demise. William's misery as he tries to stay awake (if he sleeps, he will ``never wake up with Elizabeth in their cottage again''), his ``unbearable despair'' as he says good-bye when he dies, Rosenberry's ( Together ; The Outside Inn ) elegant watercolor of grief-stricken Elizabeth placing William in a grave, and similar images are powerful but likely to prove disturbing to children. Ages 4-7. (Sept.)