Cat in the Mirror, by Mary Stolz, for Timeslip Tuesday

I remember reading Cat in the Mirror, by Mary Stolz (1975) twice when I was a child, lo these many years ago (about 36 years ago, give or take).  The first time I read it was either because I was on a stint of reading through the public library collection in backwards alphabetical order, or because the cat in the title appealed.   I didn't love it, but liked it enough to check it out a second time, at which point I decided I really didn't care for it as much as it seemed like I should have--girl, cat, time travel is supposed to equal a good book!  And now I have read it a third time, and I realize that I really don't like it because:

1. The main character, Erin, is tremendously unappealing.  All she does is feel sorry for herself, and hate her mother.  Both are pointless, even though her mother is a pretty awful, unloving mother.  And if people go around pouching their faces up with air all the time, being nicknamed "blowfish" is only to be expected.  And if people loose their temper and start screaming hysterically at their classmates on a regular basis, they won't become popular.  I knew I was supposed to sympathize with her, and admire her modern ideas about slave labor, and relate to her introspective nature, but she is actually a whinny spoiled brat. She doesn't, for instance, bat an eyelash at the fact that her housekeeper, Flora, is totally oppressed (perhaps by choice, but still).  As an adult, I was shocked when Erin's parents leave her in the hospital, saying "Flora will stay with you" and Flora just smiles and nods. 

2.  The time travel is pointless.  So Erin makes friends (!) with a new kid, who is not repulsed that she keeps blowing her cheeks up with air, and the new kid is Egyptian.   This is not deeply important to the plot, except for the new kid saying that she looks Egyptian, and adding a sort of "Egypt is important to the story" set up.  In any event, Erin whangs her head on a sarcophagus and finds herself (sort of) in ancient Egypt.  That is, an Egyptian girl, Irun, now has almost sort become possessed by Erin's memories, and sometimes the point of view is Erin in Egyptian girl body, but mostly it's not.  Erin does not learn valuable lessons, grow as a person, or change anything in the past.  She's just a partially embodied, thought to be demonic, observer (and to give Stolz some credit, it's a perfectly reasonable "lets take a tour through ancient Egypt" sort of story, nicely described, detailed, vivid, etc.).  But at least Erin stops blowing her face out while back in Egypt.

3.  If I were to title a book "Cat in the Mirror" I would make sure that the cat presence/foreshadowing/magical implications of cat were part of the book from the beginning.  The cat comes into the story very near the end, and although it is the catalyst for the only interesting bit of something happening, it's not on stage enough to make the book deserve the misleading title.

Really what I remembered most clearly about the book was the whole business of her masses of black bushy hair, which travels back in time to Egypt with her, and which is assumed by the Egyptians to be the result of demonic possession.  It gets shaved off pretty quickly, an image that has stuck with me.  When she gets back to her modern self, waking up in the hospital with her head shaved because of the accident with the sarcophagus, she comments that now she will have an afro, which struck, and strikes, me as odd, because tightly cropped head of hair, no matter how bushy it used to be, isn't my idea of an afro.  But the 1970s were different, so what do I know. 

The clear descriptions of Erin make the paperback portrayal of her rather eyebrow raising; in a sense, she's been whitewashed (though can you be whitewashed if you are white to start with?)  to look less like an ancient Egyptian and more like an utterly ordinary white girl.

In any event, I don't think I'll be reading it a fourth time. 


  1. Weeded this years ago for the brat factor. Stoltz was prolific, but doesn't seem to have held up well.

  2. Aw, I'm sad! I love this book, although I admit it's been years since I've read it. I remember being very fond of it, even if it's not my #1 favorite Mary Stolz book (The Seagulls Woke Me). And puffing up your cheeks DOES feel good. I am doing it right now.


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