Catfishing on CatNet (CatNet #1) by Naomi Kritzer

This novel ends on a cliffhanger and I desperately want to know what happens next!

Catfishing On CatNet, despite the unwieldy title and weirdly muddy cover, is a cute, deft YA sci-fi thriller set in a near future where CatNet is a sort of social connection site whose members are broken out into groups called Clowders. CatNet is, as we discover within the first few pages of the novel, run by a self-aware AI who loves cat pictures and has a soft spot for the teenagers who come looking for kindred spirits within her virtual chambers.

One of these teenagers is Steph Taylor, whose mother has been moving her from small town to small town since she was old enough to remember. Dana claims that their life on the run is due to a need to elude Steph’s arsonist stalker dad, but now that Steph’s sixteen, she’s tired, not only of their peripatetic lifestyle but also of never forging any meaningful connections with people her age. So CatNet is a godsend to her, a place where she has real friends even if she’s never met them in person and is strictly forbidden from giving away too much identifying information or, worse, ever showing them pictures of herself. As Steph tries to settle down in New Coburg, the latest hamlet Dana has run to, she’s forced to confront her suspicions as to whether her mother is a well woman. The CatNet AI steps in to try to help Steph, but things go horribly awry.

This was a terrific read that champions friendship and diversity in a seamless, excellently paced narrative told from the viewpoints of both Steph and the AI. Our protagonists must work together to find out the truth about their pasts, as well as to escape the dangers of their present, and I was furiously turning the pages to see how it would all shake out. CoCN does resolve its main plot quite well before plunging forward towards the cliffhanger and I cannot wait to find out more! Definitely my favorite of the Lodestar nominees at the Hugo Awards this year so far.

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