Debut novel by M'sian author wins Waterstones Children's Book Prize

Debut novel by M'sian author wins Waterstones Children's Book Prize

Mar 27, 2023Alan Wong
The COVID-19 pandemic was a harrowing time for multitudes across the planet, a scenario straight out of a sci-fi novel. Even so, among the tales of loss, grief, and despair, silver linings emerge in the form of stories about human compassion and fortitude.

For others, locked down in their homes and neighbourhoods and unable to travel widely, it was a chance to re-evaluate priorities, explore opportunities, and look into unfinished business. Not a few, naturally, decided to write, spinning stories out of their thoughts and experiences during the pandemic's early days.

Cover of "The Cats We Meet Along the Way" by Nadia MikailOne of those was Nadia Mikail, who wrote The Cats We Meet Along the Way as a study of sorts of a "worst-case scenario" where she was separated from family during an apocalyptic event – a real-life source of anxiety for many worldwide during the pandemic. Nadia's "phenomenal and tender debut" novel won this year's Waterstones Children's Book Prize in the older readers category and was named the overall winner.

The prize is divided into three categories: illustrated books, books for younger readers, and books for older readers. The winner in each category gets £2,000 and a shot at the overall title of Waterstones Children’s Book of the Year and an extra £3,000. Prizewinners are selected by Waterstones booksellers and the winning books will be promoted across the retail chain's stores.

Others shortlisted in the same category as Nadia's novel include All That’s Left in the World by Erik J. Brown, Welcome to St Hell by Lewis Hancox, and If You Still Recognise Me by Cynthia So.

"I was really missing my family when I started writing this book, and constantly worrying about them during the pandemic," Nadia said. "In the midst of trying to kind of work out those anxieties through writing, I realised the only thing we can do is care for the people we love every day and hope for a better future for them even when things seem hopeless.”. Hailing from Sarawak, she is currently studying law in London.

The Cats We Meet Along the Way is about seventeen-year-old Aisha who embarks on a road trip through Malaysia in a camper van with her mother, Aisha's boyfriend Walter and his parents, and a stray cat dubbed Fleabag, with the hope of finding Aisha's estranged sister June, even as the world is set to end in months.

Florentyna Martin, head of Waterstones children’s department, appears delighted by how the prose in Nadia's novel “sparkles in the growing market for older readers”. She adds that booksellers “were overwhelmed by the tenderness woven through each chapter; the moments of silence between the characters are as truthful and evocative as their conversations. Mikail has ultimately crafted a novel of hope, set against an eventful road trip, that encourages us to share stories and dreams.”

Sounds like high praise. Not convinced? Get the book here and find out. Last year's overall winner was The Last Bear by Hannah Gold; you can also find it here.

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