Tired of his geeky reputation as “that cat guy” for his successful Lolcat site, Rick decides it’s time to get out from behind the computer and live a little. After meeting a beautiful girl who dances a mean salsa, Rick decides to take dance lessons. The lessons don’t go as smoothly as Rick had hoped. In fact, he’s terrible. But that doesn’t stop him from dancing or from pursuing Ana. When an opportunity comes for him to make a trip to Havana to reconnect with his heritage and learn about his mom, Rick leaps at the chance and brings Ana along with him. But Cuba isn’t all beaches and fun. The longer they stay, the more Rick and Ana witness the struggle of the people under strict government rules. When Rick dares to defy the Cuban government to help a friend, he learns that some sacrifices come with costs to more than himself, and sometimes the price of principles proves too high to pay.
Rick is a true underdog. If you’re looking for the traditional Dirty Dancing type story where the inexperienced dancer suddenly blossoms into an expert just as the romance swells to crescendo, be warned: this isn’t that kind of story. In fact, it’s better. I loved that Rick struggled and worked to gain any competency at dance. It felt real, and a lot of times added moments of humor and insight. I like that his relationship with Ana doesn’t follow a simple romantic path. It made for another fresh element to The Cat King of Havana.
The parts of the story set in Havana definitely made me want to travel, but more than that, they made me think about the Cuban people. I felt like Rick’s journey brought me along with him from tourist to something more in a way that few stories have done for me before.
I found it interesting that instead of taking the usual rebel-slash-principles-mean-everything approach, Crosshill explores a slightly different angle. When Rick breaks rules, he realizes that it’s not only himself, but his family who would bear the consequences. He might be able to hop on a flight to New York with a clear conscience, but he’d be leaving his aunt and cousins behind to pay a high price for his actions. He wrestles long and hard over what to do. I really appreciated that about him. In fact, the one moment of the story that really irritated me is when Ana tells Rick that he’s not a nice guy. And the truth is, he does make some choices that he later reflects on as being bad decisions, but at his core, Rick really is a good guy who cares about the people around him very deeply. I loved that about him. I think he needed to be that way in order for me to truly understand and respect the decisions he made to protect his family.
Overall, I enjoyed The Cat King of Havana quite a bit. Dance fans and fans of stories with overseas settings should definitely give this one a read. In some ways it reminded me a little bit of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, though this story is cleaner and doesn’t dive quite as far into politics as Oscar Wao does.
Rick’s mother was Cuban and his father is German. Rick returns to Cuba to reconnect with his mom’s family. With him goes Ana Cabrera, a Puerto Rican girl and Rick’s salsa dance partner. Rick’s best friend is gay, but his experience doesn’t play a large role in the story.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Most of the swearing and crude language is in Spanish. There are only a few curses in English. The Spanish profanity occurs with moderate frequency.
Rick’s cousin Yosvany has loads of suggestions on how to get Rick a girl. Most of his advice is in Spanish, and Rick warns against looking up a translation because it’s usually pretty dirty. Yosvany believes in saying whatever’s necessary to get a girl into his bed. Rick experiments with a few of Yosvany’s more romantic suggestions, but ultimately finds lying is not to his taste.
Rick has sex with a girl—no details of the event itself other than that it didn’t last long. He describes losing his virginity as feeling a weight lifted that he didn’t realize he was carrying. He’s definitely felt a lot of pressure to achieve that goal, and he’s not entirely happy about how it all happened, in part because of his own behavior.
Rick witnesses another couple kissing and feels uncomfortable about it.
Rick watches a video taken by a witness to a girl’s kidnapping.
Beer and cocktails are served at some of the clubs Rick visits. He and his friends drink alcohol at places that don’t ask for ID.
Ana’s father is an alcoholic. Her parents separated for a time, but now her mom has let her dad move back in, and Ana worries about what he will do. When one of Rick and Ana’s dance teachers shows up for class drunk, she becomes furious and refuses to dance for him anymore.