The art of children’s fiction lies in its emotional resonance and imaginative scope. Quite simply, a book without either of these factors is simply an illustrated waste of time. “The Unconventional Life of Haee” is the story of a cat who leaves a comfortable home in search of adventure. He wanders into a back alley where other cats hunt insects, vermin, and chew on the leftovers from a poorly-run pizza shop. An outcast cat named Whie temporarily manages to convince the other cats to give up their hunting in favor of a vegetarian, all-pizza diet, thus creating a utopia known as “Green Alley.” Eventually, a huge, somewhat thuggish interloper cat named Samzie invades the alley and refuses to abide by the rules. The pizza shop closes, the cats scatter, and Haee, the titular cat and hero of our story, moves on.
In terms of emotional resonance, “The Unconventional Life of Haee” is immediately engaging to the reader. The cats humorously impersonate feelings of wanderlust, unconventionality, and stubbornness. The imaginative quality of the story is less stellar, in part because many of the accompanying illustrations are repeated. Whether this repetition occurs in order to save the effort of coming up with a new image or as part of a weak stab at humor is unclear. However, when the cats interact with one another, the book is funny, if only because the interactions hint at the complexity of real human societies.
While “The Unconventional Life of Haee” is bold in its attempt to tackle serious issues of conservation, group dynamics and the importance of hygiene in the work place, it is not a classic in the canon of illustrated kid’s fiction. However, it does provide a welcome chuckle, even to the most hardened reader.
Reviewed by Julia Lai for IndieReader.