Plain Kate by Erin Bow
Genre: YA, fantasy
Published on September 1, 2010
Published by Scholastic
Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work its magic. As the wood-carver's daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden charms are so fine that some even call her "witch-blade" - a dangerous nickname in a town where witches are hunted and burned in the square.
For Kate and her village have fallen on hard times. Kate's father has died, leaving her alone in the world. And a mysterious fog now covers the countryside, ruining crops and spreading fear of hunger and sickness. The townspeople are looking for someone to blame, and their eyes have fallen on Kate.
Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: In exchange for her shadow, he'll give Kate the means to escape the town that seems set to burn her, and what's more, he'll grant her her heart's wish. It's a chance for her to start over, to find a home, a family, a place to belong. But Kate soon realizes that she can't live shadowless forever - and that Linay's designs are darker than she ever dreamed.
Though a Young Adult book, this was one of the most chilling reads I have encountered in a long while. Consequently, it was also one of the most beautiful, though the beauty wasn't necessarily in the writing itself. The Author's style is not bad - it is, in fact, very good, - but it was story, the character interactions, and the world's landscape which causes me to describe it as beautiful, just in the way that The Near Witch was beautiful in its haunting qualities.
Read this with a box of tissues, because you will be in tears during the end - or very near. And if you're not, then either I have turned into a sap, or there is something wrong with your attachment towards talking cats. Yes, there is a talking cat, and many told me, before I read this book, that this particular cat is the most adorable talking cat in all of literature. I happen to agree with them, though it is a close call between several other talking cats I have read about. And while we are on the subject of characters, Kate is one of those rare characters who is helpless in her situation without being irritating. Though she ought to have been far more wary of Linay from the beginning, the majority of her misfortunes are not her fault. And it is hard to completely mark Linay as a villain. I felt incredibly sorry for him, but because of the way the Author portrayed him, for once I did not mind being sympathetic toward the villain. The other characters, though relatively minor, were equally engaging and added a great deal to the story. Her Gypsies were believable, and the betrayal of characters whom the Reader at first assume are allies, is both heartwrenching and realistic to the actions of superstitious people.
Normally I am not a fan of supernatural or ghost-like stories, but as with The Near Witch, the weirdness of Plain Kate was dreamlike and intriguing. I was chilled to the bone, and in a good way, but I warn you that if reading about blood unnerves you, then you might not enjoy Plain Kate all that much. My wrists and hands certainly ached as they are wont to do when reading about blood, but despite the large amount of squirming I was obliged to entertain, I could not put it down. And while the ending is definitely sad, I wouldn't have liked it near as well as I do if it had ended any other way. Bittersweet endings that manage to be satisfying at the same time are my favorite types of finis.
Plain Kate by Erin Bow comes highly recommended for those Readers who like tragedy, dark humor, having their blood chilled, hauntingly-beautiful vistas, and talking cats. And even if you don't like that, I think that perhaps this particular book you would like regardless.