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The Cat I Never Named
Cover of The Cat I Never Named
The Cat I Never Named
A True Story of Love, War, and Survival
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The stunning memoir of a Muslim teen struggling to survive in the midst of the Bosnian genocide—and the stray cat who protected her family through it all.*Six Starred Reviews*A YALSA Excellence...
The stunning memoir of a Muslim teen struggling to survive in the midst of the Bosnian genocide—and the stray cat who protected her family through it all.*Six Starred Reviews*A YALSA Excellence...
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  • The stunning memoir of a Muslim teen struggling to survive in the midst of the Bosnian genocide—and the stray cat who protected her family through it all.

    *Six Starred Reviews*
    A YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist
    A Capitol Choices Remarkable Book
    A Mighty Girl Best Book
    A Malala Fund Favorite Book Selection

    In 1992, Amra was a teen in Bihac, Bosnia, when her best friend said they couldn't speak anymore. Her friend didn't say why, but Amra knew the reason: Amra was Muslim. It was the first sign her world was changing. Then Muslim refugees from other Bosnian cities started arriving, fleeing Serbian persecution. When the tanks rolled into Bihac, bringing her own city under seige, Amra's happy life in her peaceful city vanished.
    But there is light even in the darkest of times, and she discovered that light in the warm, bonfire eyes of a stray cat. The little calico had followed the refugees into the city and lost her own family. At first, Amra doesn't want to bother with a stray; her family doesn't have the money to keep a pet. But with gentle charm this kitty finds her way into everyone's heart, and after a few near miracles when she seems to save the family, how could they turn her away?
    Here is the stunning true story of a teen who, even in the brutality of war, never wavered in her determination to obtain an education, maintain friendships, and even find a first love-and the cat who gave comfort, hope, and maybe even served as the family's guardian spirit.

Reviews-

  • Kirkus

    July 15, 2020
    Now a professor in the U.S., Sabic-El-Rayess was 16 when the Serbian siege on her city of Bihac, Bosnia, began in 1992. Overnight, her life changed: She went from being a typical teenager, excited about her new volleyball shoes and seven-tiered birthday cake, to fleeing bullets. It felt as if overnight Sabic-El-Rayess went from attending her multiethnic STEM school to learning that the Serbs in her life, including her best friend and her favorite teacher, had fled; having received advance warning, they left Muslims, like her family, and Catholics behind to endure the impending siege. Sabic-El-Rayess' innocence was soon swept away by the realities of war: She witnessed homes being blown up, bombs killing her childhood friends, and deprivation turning people against each other. Sabic-El-Rayess found unexpected solace in adopting Maci ("cat" in Bosnian), a stray calico who followed a Muslim refugee family into town. Maci quickly became a source of comfort for the family, who even credited her with saving their lives. The story boldly tackles the rawness of human emotion in times of severe distress, putting on full display the ways war brings out both the best and worst in people. Sabic-El-Rayess' viewpoint as an adolescent girl juxtaposes her dreams of the future against fears of losing loved ones, rape camps, and starvation. The crude realities of war are animated by the combination of both graphic scenes of violence and intimate displays of affection and warmth. Unforgettable. (additional information, author's note, resources) (Memoir. 14-18)

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from October 1, 2020

    Gr 8 Up-Sabic-El-Rayess, a Bosnian Muslim teenage girl, was in danger when the Bosnian War (1992-95) made its way to her home city of Biha . Her memoir begins in 1992; the first chapter details her homecoming from Belgrade, Serbia. Her parents, who fiercely believed in the power of education, had sent their daughter away for school. Upon returning to Biha, Sabic-El-Rayess found that things had quickly changed. School was suspended, her Serbian friends disowned her before moving away, and bombings became a regular occurrence. Food was in short supply, and family and friends died. Yet there was one small constant source of hope: an ever-present cat that saved her family's life several times over the six years chronicled in the text. Moving chronologically, the climactic events follow the time line of the war. Sabic-El-Rayess's experience spotlights a significant historical event that may be unfamiliar to the target audience. She comprehensively addresses politics, genocide, rape camps, self-preservation, and, through it all, still being a teenager. Her prose balances verve and gentleness as she discusses the horrors of war alongside moments of levity, be it the cat or a love interest. The narrative is an innately human experience set against a backdrop of destruction and hatred. Her family's survival will pull readers into an emotional tale. VERDICT A hopeful story of a girl's survival and ultimate success. A must-read nonfiction addition to all libraries.-Alicia Abdul, Albany H.S., NY

    Copyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from October 19, 2020
    In her memoir about the transformative power of love, connection, and education, Sabic-El-Rayess revisits her life during the Bosnian civil war beginning shortly after her 16th birthday in 1992, and the ethnic cleansing of Muslims that she, her brother, and her parents survived at the hands of Serbs. Sabic-El-Rayess communicates the horrors of war—violence, starvation, and death—with frank detail. She also describes the community-building and connections borne amid the suffering, including the creation of a community garden and a makeshift school that allowed children a sense of normalcy and an opportunity to continue learning despite bombs and constant threats to lives. Central to Sabic-El-Rayess’s story is the titular “cat never named,” a stray who showed her reluctant family unconditional love, indirectly saving their lives multiple times. At once a story of an individual surviving horrifying circumstances and an unflinching exploration of the political and societal forces that breed ethnic hate and discrimination, Sabic-El-Rayess’s memoir is as timely as it is effective. Ages 12–up. Agents: Rob McQuilkin and Jason Anthony, Massie and McQuilkin.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from October 15, 2020
    Grades 9-12 *Starred Review* This exceptional memoir details how one Muslim teen experienced the Bosnian War. It begins in 1992 when Amra was a top student in Bihac, Bosnia, an integrated city where Muslims, Serbs, and Croats lived together peacefully. Two days after her 16th birthday, Amra arrived at school to find her classroom half-empty; the Serbs had fled overnight ahead of the attack they knew was coming. While running to retrieve her younger brother, Amra turned back for the stray cat that followed her to school and stepped out of the path of a sniper. Maci, the cat, saved her life. The siege of Bihac lasted for four years, and Amra's family suffered a great deal. They also survived harrowing near misses, which she credited to their feline guardian angel. The author has an extraordinary ability to recreate both the beauty and brutality of these years: the terror and boredom of living in a crowded basement while bombs fell outside, the sweetness of falling in love, the dread of finding her name on a list of Muslims designated for the rape camps. At great risk, schools reopened sporadically, allowing Amra to graduate. Readers will notice parallels to their pandemic experiences, and an author's note points out the current fear of immigrants and racial groups which, in her adolescence, led to genocide.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

  • Foreword Reviews (starred review) Gripping. . . . Sabic-El-Rayess's visual imagination is a slipstream. Amra's words have a subtle, relentless force, creating a world where life is a danger, a demand, and a warm, calico presence.
  • Kirkus Reviews (starred review) Boldly tackles the rawness of human emotion in times of severe distress. . . . Unforgettable.

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    Bloomsbury Publishing
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The Cat I Never Named
The Cat I Never Named
A True Story of Love, War, and Survival
Amra Sabic-El-Rayess
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