Existing in a darkly hilarious universe all its own, The Rabbi's Cat (Pantheon, $21.95, 142 pages, ISBN 0375422811), by acclaimed French artist Joann Sfar, combines whimsical drawings, forbidden romance and searching questions about the nature of faith. The story is narrated by a nameless cat who belongs to an Algerian rabbi in the 1930s. When the cat eats the rabbi's obnoxiously squawking parrot, he gains the power of speech temporarily, but long enough to find an impetuous joy in telling lies and challenging his master's long-held beliefs. Speech enables the cat to question the tenets of Judaism, even as he's arguing for his right to have a Bar Mitzvah and study the kabbalah. He and the rabbi eventually accompany the rabbi's beautiful daughter, Zlabya, to Paris on her honeymoon after she marries into the wealthy family of a sophisticated French rabbi. The artwork is as rich and lovely as the story, full of squiggly lines, tapestried walls, cobbled alleyways, opulent costumes and palpably warm lighting. Both adults and older kids will find the book charming and thought-provoking. Becky Ohlsen keeps her comics collection in Portland, Oregon.

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