Saturday, August 7, 2010

Plain Kate: By Erin Bow



Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep 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 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.


Plain Kate is an interesting book.

It started out with one plot line, moved on to another even more interesting plot line, and then finally to another concluding plot line. Each of these changes brought more and more excitement to the book and yet also changed it into something else. This final version of the book was not remotely like the beginning of the book at all, and yet wasn’t bad.

To discuss the book the best way is to dissect its three parts.

The first section of the book tells the story of Kate, her father, and how she is thrown out of the city. At this point in the book there is no magic, and it seems like Kate and her father are living during the Salem Witch Trials. Kate lives in hardship and misery, but she lives. This section ends and the next section begins with her escaping persecution in the city and making a deal with a witch.

While the first section holds no magic and is by far the slowest of the three sections it holds a steady pace and it’s in this section of the book that you really get to know the character Kate and get a feeling for the setting of the story. It is sad but Bow narrates the story in such a way that Kate’s father passing (something that happens in the beginning of the book) and other sad events, seem like a matter of fact instead of true grief or depressing points.

In the second section of the story, the reader will be shocked to learn that there really is magic in this world. Kate has sold her shadow to a man offering her a way out and her hearts deepest wish. It is here that we are introduced to the newest, and in my opinion, best character of the book, Taggle the cat. Taggle is a cat Kate saved as a kitty after her father died, and it is through the selling of her shadow that Taggle is granted the wish of talking. Taggle is strong, true, and a beautifully written character. He sounds both like a cat would (if cats could talk), and yet sounds wise and humorous at the same time. He is a great companion and the best character of the book.

The second section also introduces the Roamers, a gypsy like people who go from town to town trading horses, jewelry, and other trinkets. They reluctantly take Kate in, and we meet other charters such as Drina and Stivo. Drina is one of my least favorite characters of the book, she is a chld close to Kate’s age who acts like she wants to be grown up and be like her mother, but when things go horribly wrong she doesn’t have the sense or courage to fix them or take responsibility. I can’t say what happens without ruining the book but her actions and stupidity are cause the turning point to the final section of the book.

The third and final section of the book reintroduces the witch Kate sold her shadow to in the first part of the book. It ties up why things are happening and really introduces more excitement to the story. I liked this third section, until the very end. I felt the actions that occurred seemed ridiculous and Drina again seemed small, whiny, and stupid and yet the author tried to make her seem wise and sage like, but failed in this regard.

This book is an interesting and sad story that shouldn’t necessarily be read to children before bed time. It has aspects of both Flowers for Algernon and Stardust, and tries to tie in many different story lines, creating the possibility for readers to get annoyed with the drastic changes in the book. Yet these changes also bring about more excitement, revitalizing the book each time. So it ultimately depends on the reader, if you are looking for something that you will be able to guess and understand from the very beginning, then this is not the book for you. But if you are looking for something different, possibly something more or less up the alley of a soft fantasy book, but with a twist then this may be just what the doctor ordered. That said, this is not a mystery, just an interesting young adult fantasy that offers up an endearing sidekick, a sad heroine, and a grand adventure filled with sadness. Ultimately a good book for middle school and early high school kids.

7.5 out of 10


Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books

Published: September 1, 2010

Price: $17.99

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