Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Boris

Boris

Cynthia Rylant
Poetry
For ages 14 and up
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006   ISBN: 0152058095

Not that long ago her last cat died, and she decided that she would not be getting any more cats. She would be a dog person from here on out and spare herself all the trials and tribulations that come with cat ownership. No more hairballs, no more worrying that the cat has been eaten by a coyote, and no more “howling, spitting fights.” No, cats will no longer be a part of her life.

Then the local shelter puts a storefront in town and she has to walk past that storefront every day; she has to see the cats sitting in the window, all of whom so badly want a home. She holds out for two months and then she goes into the store. She says that she will get one female cat “and no more.”

Not long after, she walks out of the store with two cats, a male and female. The cats are siblings and she could not bear to separate them. The male is Boris, a beautiful grey fellow who in his own quiet way promises that he will “be good.”

It isn’t long before Boris is a member of the family. The dogs accept him and when they go too far they get a swat across the nose to keep them in line. Of course it also isn’t long before she is worrying that the eagles might try to harm Boris. She asks him to never “stand on a beach / beneath them,” for surely if he does they will be measuring and assessing him to determine if he is too big and heavy from them to carry him off.

Boris is full of surprises. She knows that his former name was Hunter and imagines at first that it is a “designer-label sort of / name.” It turns out that Hunter was not some preppy name at all. The name describes what Boris is. He is a hunter and soon he is bringing her all kinds of furry and feathered gifts.

When a new cat moves in next door she is sure that Boris is going to take grave exception to the cat using the next-door deck that he has claimed as his own. She full expects to see fur flying, and yet this is not what happens at all. Boris takes the newcomer in hand, adopting him and treating him like a little brother who needs someone to show him what is what.

This magnanimity is not offered to an elderly cat that Boris and his owner meet when they are out one day. This time the hunter in Boris comes to the fore and he bowls over the poor old fellow without a thought. She is embarrassed, and the encounter gets her thinking about aging and what waits for them both in the future. Will they two be like the old cat who dared to walk on Boris’ path? Will they two stand against younger whippersnappers who try to bully them?

In this remarkable book, nineteen free verse poems take us into the world of the narrator and her cat. Through her interaction with Boris we find out about her own fears, worries and insecurities. We laugh with her as Boris watches, and bats at, birds that he sees on the TV screen. We laugh too when she describes how much she enjoys playing “spinnies” with her cat companion. Her pain is tangible as she tells us what it was like when Boris went missing for ten days, and we understand why she worries about moving to a new house that Boris might not approve of. Being owned by a cat is not for the faint of heart, but the experience teaches us a lot about ourselves, and through our cats we learn a great deal about love, patience, and compassion.

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