It was a Tuesday when Aisha found out that the world was ending. Ostensibly just another day, but one containing the announcement that an asteroid is on course to collide with Earth within the year. Despite the best efforts of world governments, it cannot be deflected. ‘Make the most of what’s left,’ say resigned authority figures, and Aisha does just that in The Cats We Meet Along the Way by Nadia Mikail, as she heads across Malaysia in a camper van, in search of her missing sister and some long-awaited answers.
On the cusp of university, Aisha lives in Penang with her widowed mother, Esah, is about to be adopted by a stray cat named Fleabag, and has given her heart to Walter, a young man who is ‘warm like her most-loved armchair’. The missing piece of her personal jigsaw is older sister, June, who had run away a few years before. Fizzing with teen spirit and suitably shocking pink hair, June had declared that she needed to find herself and promptly vanished without trace.
Now news of the coming apocalypse prompts Esah to desire reconciliation, and they set off to find her in a flamboyant green camper van, accompanied by Walter, his parents who are on a very personal final pilgrimage, and grumpy stowaway, Fleabag.
Mikail’s alternative road trip tale is multilayered and considered. She asks us what really matters in the final analysis. Against a vibrant Malaysian backdrop, each character reflects on their life in the face of impending obliteration, and an anger that has been bubbling inside Aisha begins to surface. She has lost her father, her sister, and now her future.
Readers expecting a bleak plot trajectory will find also a luminous tale of humanity, love, and hope. Winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2023, Mikail’s debut novel is a unique read from an exciting new author.
The Cats We Meet Along the Way by Nadia Mikail is published by Guppy Books, 192 pages.