It was late, the sky a winter chocolate color as I pulled my coat closer around me and sluffed my way to my car, tossing my backpack in the passenger seat. I didn’t bother starting up my audiobook for the commute home—after a 9:20 pm finish for my three-hour photography class, I had a headache, my eyes hurt, and I was facing down two more hours of homework before my 8:30 am the next day. I had never wanted the ability to teleport more than right then.

So I was driving in this endless straight line down 28th Street—the kind of road that makes you think of purgatory—and I drive right past the Long John Silvers without even thinking of why you would name your restaurant after the main antagonist in Treasure Island, when a minivan starts to keep pace with me.

Their window is rolled down, and a sweatered arm is sticking out the side.

Holding a plastic plate.

With a slice of pepperoni pizza on it.

The point “B” of the pizza’s equilateral triangle flapped against the winter winds—I quick glance ahead of me on the road—and yes, the whole slice was dancing itself off the plate now—now quick glance ahead again and

With a soundless slap, the pizza was on my windshield.

The orange grease went neon in the streetlights, and then it was gone.

I blinked a few times, then laughed out loud.

The minivan peeled ahead, and I kept laughing. Because who gets hit by pizza on their way home from school on a road that usually feels like purgatory? Who gets to see pepperonis in flight?

I felt lucky to be alive—from airborne pizza—no kidding.

It was a rush of flying, greasy, unexpectedness.

I never thought I would encounter anything like it again.

But then again, it’s not every day you’re in the children’s section of your local library and a live quartet starts up the moment you discover a book called The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza.

The graphic novel by Mac Barnett and Shawn Harris was started in a virtual book club format as a way to engage readers during quarantine—except the book was being improvised live during the club. What resulted in the improv was a fast-paced, quirky, comedic delight with illustrations as humorous and intergalactic as the cat himself.

I hadn’t meant to pick the book up. I really hadn’t.

I never liked Captain Underpants or Dog Man or, really, any of the wacky graphic novels written for older elementary kids. The plots were too simple, too rooted in jokes I didn’t think were that funny.

As I reached for the graphic novel, the string quartet struck up a song.

What happened next? Epic lunacy. I read on and found out our moon is being slowly nibbled away by cosmic rats. I helped launch the bioengineered heroic feline and his stowaway toenail clipper robot sidekick. I greeted the Moon Queen and the Man in the Moon, talking trees, and space whales—

I went and bought the book the next day.

My copy is missing part of its spine, pages bent and watermarked. I’ve loaned it out to three people so far and counting. It is, to date, the closest feeling to the rush of flying, pizza-y, unexpectedness I’ve encountered.

Barnett’s jokes land fresh throughout the plot, with panel-crossing techniques that keep it fast-paced and witty. The fourth wall is broken, then put back together, then broken again as the characters build relationships with each other and the reader. But I think the reason I keep recommending this book to people—adults, mostly—is because life can be monotonous. Books can get monotonous. And reading this book is like hitting a reset button on your stale expectations for what a page can contain.

This couldn’t have been done without the spontaneity of the making of this book infused into the main character. Space Cat says nothing but “meow” throughout the novel, and yet his (perhaps bioengineered) curiosity and ability to see the good in unlikely allies makes him an incredibly 3D character for this level of readers. He’s the kind of character that takes pizza hitting his spaceship window in stride—in fact, he’d probably bathe in the orange, greasy blur across his windshield.

So maybe, in the chalky-textured, black and blue illustrations of a fictional, cybernetic-enhanced cat, I saw a reflection of the best, bravest, most curious version of myself.

I can’t drive down 28th street and share pizza with everyone that needs that jolt of unexpectedness out my window, but I can give a slice of Mac Barnett and Shawn Harris’s genius to those in need of some outer space fantastical worldbuilding in their lives.

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