Kat & Mouse
Kat has just moved from the Midwest to New England, where her dad is the new science teacher at a private school. When a break-in at the science lab puts his job in jeopardy, Kat and new friend Mouse are determined to find out who’s responsible in this series written by Alex de Campi and drawn by Federica Manfredi.
It’s a familiar setting, with plenty of welcoming hooks for the reader. As a high concept, it’s Nancy Drew meets Mean Girls, but what Kat & Mouse reminds me of most is the early days of Gilmore Girls. The writing’s got the same strength and truth of character, with young women I’d either love to hang out with or find highly entertaining to watch, as a brainy girl navigates a posh world because of her family.
It’s terrific to see smart girls portrayed as cool and competent, but the mystery is only a framework for the character insight and humor. Mouse is smart and observant, and she’s not shy about showing it. Kat is understandably insecure, due to the many changes in her life and the adaptations she’s asked to make as a result. The setting is backgrounded by class distinctions based, in the American way, on money and the self-centeredness that comes with privilege.
Federica Manfredi’s art is simply astounding; it’s clean and confident, with plenty of expression. She’s able to handle everything well — head shots, setting-establishing spreads, conversation, and action. I also liked the way the girls are proactive and unafraid of technology. They plot over IM and use science to solve the mystery.
Book two opens with the introduction of a new art teacher. Mr. Templar proposes taking the kids on a field trip to the Boston museum, and Mouse is crushing on him big-time. Kat’s unsure about attending, because her family is on a tight budget as they adjust to the ritzy new area. Her lack of enthusiasm winds up driving a temporary wedge between the girls, although they work it out in time to solve an art mystery.
In book three, everyone’s preparing for the winter dance, while Mouse sums up her feelings: “This is what I hate about school dances. If we go, we’ll feel like losers. And if we don’t go, we’ll feel like losers.” Such is the life of the unpopular girl, although at least they have each other.
And popular girl Chloe doesn’t have it easy, either. She’s got to pass science or her parents will ground her. Kat needs money for a dress for the dance, so she winds up tutoring Chloe. This foregrounds the difference between dealing with someone individually as a person and dealing with someone as part of a group: even supposedly strong personalities have trouble contradicting others’ expectations of them in public.
Plus, there’s the issue of not wanting to be a slave to stupid teen mag fashion but still wanting to look attractive: it’s a problem every high school girl faces at times like these. Everything comes to a head with a stolen jewelry cliffhanger, setting the reader up for next year’s book four.
All the books include additional science information — in book one, how to take fingerprints; book two shows how to make an electromagnet; book three, prism rainbows — and profiles of accomplished women. This series is a definite keeper. It’s a shame that the non-standard format experiment has kept it from being as well-known as it should be. I really hope, since book four is reportedly the final, that Tokyopop collects all of them into one big volume, which would be easier to sell and stock.