The Cat King of Havana by Tom Crosshill

The Cat King of Havana by Tom Crosshill. September 6, 2016. Katherine Tegen Books, 368 p. ISBN: 9780062422835.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 650.

Rick Gutierrez is…the Cat King of Havana! A cat-video tycoon turned salsa-dancer extraordinaire, he’ll take Cuba by storm, romance the girl of his dreams, and ignite a lolcat revolution!

At least that’s the plan.

It all starts when his girlfriend dumps Rick on his sixteenth birthday for uploading cat videos from his bedroom when he should be out experiencing the real world. Known as “That Cat Guy” at school, Rick isn’t cool and he knows it. He realizes it’s time for a change.

Rick decides joining a salsa class is the answer…because of a girl, of course. Ana Cabrera is smart, friendly, and smooth on the dance floor. Rick might be half-Cuban, but he dances like a drunk hippo. Desperate to impress Ana, he invites her to spend the summer in Havana. The official reason: learning to dance. The hidden agenda: romance under the palm trees.

Except Cuba isn’t all sun, salsa, and music. There’s a darker side to the island. As Rick and Ana meet his family and investigate the reason why his mother left Cuba decades ago, they learn that politics isn’t just something that happens to other people. And when they find romance, it’s got sharp edges.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong sexual themes; Underage drinking


Salsa with The Cat King of Havana


Booklist (September 15, 2016 (Online))
Grades 9-12. After Rick Gutiérrez gets dumped, he decides to take his ex’s advice: spend a little less time on his cat video site and a little more time out in the world. This eventually lands him in the same salsa school as Ana. When Ana needs to get some space from her family, Rick thinks he has the perfect idea. He’ll take her to Havana to visit the family his late mother left behind, and he’s only heard about in stories. Once they arrive, however, they begin to realize just how little they understand about Cuba and how dangerous it might be to learn. Crosshill’s debut novel manages to make a book full of weighty subjects into a seemingly light read. Rick’s voice is funny and relatable, and Crosshill dismantles the “nice guy” trope without coming off as preachy. The result is a funny, sometimes sad portrait of a teenager trying to connect with his roots and realizing that the world is more complicated than he ever wanted to know.

Publishers Weekly (June 27, 2016)
Cat video entrepreneur Rick Gutiérrez seeks change after his girlfriend dumps him on his 16th birthday. Rick joins a salsa band and meets dancer and filmmaker Ana, who is dealing with complicated family problems. Eager to spend more time with Ana and to explore his deceased mother’s Cuban heritage, Rick invites Ana for a summer of salsa lessons in Havana. Living with his aunt and two cousins, Rick and Ana learn that communism is not as equitable as Aunt Juanita believes. When cousin Yolanda asks the two to help a kidnapped blogger, they are threatened, endangering themselves and Rick’s family, even as Rick attempts to search for his mother’s first love and uncover the truth behind her defection during the 1980 Mariel boatlift. Breaking the fourth wall, Rick speaks directly and engagingly to readers, infusing Crosshill’s first YA novel with wry, self-effacing humor. The breezy pace and descriptions of Cuban culture soften the serious issues at hand-supply shortages, imprisonment, and secret police. Despite an improbable ending worthy of a viral video itself, Crosshill’s big-hearted novel shines. Ages 13-up.

About the Author

Tom Crosshill’s fiction has been nominated for the Nebula Award (thrice) as well as the Latvian Annual Literature Award. His stories have appeared in venues such as Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Lightspeed. In 2009, he won the Writers of the Future contest. After some years spent in Oregon and New York, he currently lives in his native Latvia. In the past, he has operated a nuclear reactor, translated books and worked in a zinc mine, among other things.

His website is

Teacher Resources

The Cat King of Havana website

Around the Web

The Cat King of Havana on Amazon

The Cat King of Havana  on JLG

The Cat King of Havana  on Goodreads



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