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Cat Burglar Black Paperback – September 1, 2009


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 11 - 14 years
  • Grade Level: 6 - 9
  • Lexile Measure: 430L (What's this?)
  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: First Second (September 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159643144X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596431447
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6.1 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #195,594 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sala's charming new graphic novel recalls a revamp of the Nancy Drew mysteries—produced under the hypnotic gaze of Edward Gorey. Silver-haired orphan K. is a prodigious young thief who struggles with the legacy and implications of her larcenous talent. Her enrollment in a peculiar young women's academy promises respite from her troubled upbringing, but soon reveals a direct link to her own mysterious past as her skills are pressed into service for an unknown goal. Sala meets the publisher's smaller, digest-sized format with an economical visual style, fleshed out with gemlike watercolors, brilliantly reproduced. His disciplined images work to support efficient storytelling that is as crystal clear to the reader's eye as his sinister characters' motives are unclear to his headstrong, inquisitive heroine. Suitable for a YA audience, Cat Burglar Black is less gloriously eccentric than the author's previous adult works, but features the same sort of effortlessly eerie style. If the resolution is somewhat pat, its pattern of successive revelations implies further developments to come in a sequel. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"Sala’s style is cheerfully over-the-top, and the well-constructed plot, which is big on girl-power, as well as the sharply drawn characters will pull the reader in." -- The New York Times Book Review
 
"[A] high-quality caper comic." -- Booklist
 
"The contrast between the hulking and misshapen adult nogoodniks in the cast and the four slim, leggy teens adds retro charm to a tale well stocked with menacing characters, mysterious voices, rococo hazards and atmospheric shadows." -- Kirkus Reviews
 

Full Review in 9/13 New York Times Book Review

From its cinematic opening – a cliffhanger cutaway of a girl being chased by a wild boar – this noir comic sets up an inviting oddball mystery.  K. Westree arrives at the remote Bellsong Academy for Girls to discover that the school isn’t in session.  Instead, a cruel headmistress is training the other three “students” to be thieves as part of some grand scheme, and K. has been tapped to join them.  Sala’s style is cheerfully over-the-top, and the well-constructed plot, which is big on girl-power, as well as the sharply drawn characters will pull the reader in. 

Review in 7/1 Booklist

Sala, with his gothic expressionism charms intact, offers his first graphic novel for a YA audience.  Katherine (who goes by K.) was raised in an orphanage by a mistress who indoctrinated the children in the arts of thievery. Now, she finds herself at a musty old boarding school run by a secret organization called “The Obtainers,” dedicated to the finer points of cat burglary. Along with four other students, K. embarks on a high-wire series of art heists, but when the other girls start disappearing and a bit of light gets shed on the organization’s darker secrets, she begins to reconsider her role. Sure, readers might hope for more substantial characterization or smoother plot development, but the spooky, tiptoeing atmosphere of Sala’s art and the sneakily sinister undertones of the story are the real draws. This high-quality caper comic should appeal to readers dismayed by the shuttering of DC’s teen girl–centric Minx imprint, but it will by no means be limited to them. Several unresolved elements hint at possible sequels. — Ian Chipman

Review in 7/15 Kirkus Reviews

Sala usually aims his pulpy gothics at older teens and adults, but here he tries for a younger audience. The art is far more finished than the sketchy plot. Trained since childhood by Fagin-esque Mother Claude to be a thief, teenage K. is dispatched to a supposed girls’ school in a creepy mansion surrounded by dark woods and, along with a trio of fellow “students,” breaks into three nearby houses to steal paintings that contain clues to a pirate treasure buried nearby. Filling in the back story requires so much explanation that swollen dialogue balloons nearly fill some of the cartoon panels, but the contrast between the hulking and misshapen adult nogoodniks in the cast and the four slim, leggy teens adds retro charm to a tale well stocked with menacing characters, mysterious voices, rococo hazards and atmospheric shadows. Expect sequels. (Graphic fiction. 10-12)

Review in Publisher’s Weekly 8/17


Sala's charming new graphic novel recalls a revamp of the Nancy Drew mysteries—produced under the hypnotic gaze of Edward Gorey. Silver-haired orphan K. is a prodigious young thief who struggles with the legacy and implications of her larcenous talent. Her enrollment in a peculiar young women's academy promises respite from her troubled upbringing, but soon reveals a direct link to her own mysterious past as her skills are pressed into service for an unknown goal. Sala meets the publisher's smaller, digest-sized format with an economical visual style, fleshed out with gemlike watercolors, brilliantly reproduced.

Review in 11/09 School Library Journal

Gr 5-9–K. arrives at a peculiar, isolated private school after having been raised as a pickpocket in an orphanage following the disappearance of her circus-acrobat-cum-cat-burglar father. It turns out that the only other three girls at the school are also thieves, and the instructors are part of a guild of criminals and were allies of K.’s dad–or so they hastily claim when pressed. The school is owned by her aunt, who is very ill, and the guild–“The Obtainers”–hope that the teen will help them discover lost treasure on the grounds that could pay for medical treatments and the restoration of the school. Nothing is what it seems, particularly the disappearances of K.’s classmates during heists to procure clues about the treasure. The artwork is a winning mixture of lovely and comically ugly. This dichotomy, shown in the visuals, is further evidenced in the dialogue, where the guild members are transparent and broad in their motivations and delivery, while the girls are given casual dialogue and a number of funny moments. The story is structured like a lighthearted cross between a fable and a horror film, but only ever teetering on the edge of horror without depicting it. This could have resulted in a mishmash, but Sala elegantly dances through the creepy and the sweet.–Benjamin Russell, Belmont High School, NH

Review in 7/27 ICv2

Fifteen-year-old K arrives at Bellsong Academy expecting to be welcomed by her long-lost aunt.  Instead she is greeted by member of The Obtainers, a secret organization of thieves.  They have been watching K grow up, first in an orphanage where the headmistress trained the children to be pickpockets, and then in reform school, where K ended up after the orphanage was disbanded by the authorities.  Now that they have K and three other girls in their clutches, The Obtainers are expecting K to use her skills to find the clues that will lead them to a treasure hidden beneath Bellong Academy.  But when the other girls begin disappearing and The Obtainers story stops adding up, K takes steps to solve the mystery herself. 

Cat Burglar Black has a style most often found in European comics.  The pen and watercolor pictures are graceful and the occasional wordless pages are beautifully composed to convey K’s tension or emotion. 

The story reads like a Tintin/Oliver Twist hybrid and is mostly successful.  That the girls do not instantly bond in friendship is refreshing and K’s loner status and sense of isolation is believable.  While the plot becomes convoluted at times, the bones of the story are solid and the characters, particularly the villains, are fun takes on the standard tropes.  Some major threads are left dangling, so a sequel is sure to come. 

Upper elementary and middle school readers will look forward to reading more about K and her adventures. 

Review in 11/09 Horn Book

In this boisterous graphic novel crime caper, K., a white-haired teen raised to be a cat burglar, believes she’s escaped that life forever when her aunt issues an invitation to join her at the secluded Bellsong Academy for Girls. But all is not as it seems. K.’s past—as one of many orphans corralled into thievery by the villainous Mother Claude—is closer to her present than she suspects. The other girls (all three of them) are secretive, if friendly, and possess unlikely skill sets that match her own, and her aunt is locked away with a mysterious illness. And the school? Turns out it’s run by a criminal society known as The Obtainers, of which Mother Claude and, apparently, K.’s father were members. Soon K. is employing her high-wire larceny talents once more, pursuing a project for the Obtainers, while her classmates disappear one by one. Sala’s nightscapes are deep-hued and creepy, in stark contrast to the jewel-toned outdoor scenes, and the zany backstories, tongue-in-cheek hints, and quick-moving plot make for an entertaining tale. The transparent shiftiness of his villains injects a little levity amidst all the dire Gothic undertones, while the bizarre cast of characters balances K.’s soul-searching as she tries to reconcile her moral leanings with the “rush” of stealing. The ending is abrupt, and the fates of the other girls are left too open (and most likely dismal) for the sunny, pat conclusion to ring true. Here’s hoping this means that sequels are on the way.

Review in 11/1 BCCB

In this graphic novel, orphaned teen K. Westree has been brought up to a life of crime, but she has hope for better days ahead now that her aunt has summoned her to boarding school, Bellsong Academy for Girls.  K. quickly realizes there’s something amiss, though: only three other girls are in attendance, the faulty is a pretty creepy lot, and her aunt is bedridden and bandaged from head to toe.  The other girls, all criminally trained like herself, take K. on a tour of the tenebrous premises, and the headmistress, the grossly misnamed Mrs. Turtledove, explains the mission for which they are being prepared: to break into three neighboring houses and steal family portraits that, together, will offer a clue to the whereabouts of a hidden treasure.  The quartet, a sort of teenaged Charlie’s Devils right down to their diverse hair colors, fulfills the mission, but at the price of losing one girl at each heist, leaving only K. to face the evil staff at the big climax, recover her real missing aunt, and hint at adventures yet to come.  Girls who feel underserved by comic-book adventures will appreciate the strong female characters of the nasty, nice, and misguided ilk and the sleek black night-prowling garb and masks that keep the girls chic on their midnight encounters with man-eating fish, murderous statuary, and a notorious serial killer.  Job One for K. now is to discover what happened to her missing schoolmates, so cue the theremin and stay tuned for...


More About the Author

Richard Sala grew up with a fascination for musty old museums, dusty old libraries, cluttered antique shops, narrow alleyways, hidden truths, double meanings, sinister secrets and spooky old houses. He has written and drawn a number of unusual graphic novels which often combine elements of classic mystery and horror stories and which have been known to cause readers to emit chuckles as well as gasps. Although most of his books are written with teens and older readers in mind, his book, CAT BURGLAR BLACK, can be enjoyed by younger readers as well. He has also collaborated with Lemony Snicket and Art Spiegelman, and his illustrations and artwork have won awards and been published all over the world.

Customer Reviews

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If you like this I recommend Peculia also.
Jeffrey A. Dickinson
Another great departure for Sala in this book is the fact that it is in full color, not the sinister black and white ink illustrations that he is so well known for.
Eric Hanson
The graphic novel is fun again, thanks to Richard Sala and First Second Books.
Christopher Browne

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey A. Dickinson on September 2, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book is a lot of fun and a good entry point if you haven't read Sala before. It has all of his usual
subjects-secret societies, homicidal maniacs, spooky houses and clever, attractive female protagonists-but they're not taken to quite the grotesque extremes of the Chuckling Whatsit or the Grave Robbers Daughter.
I hesitate to say it but it would probably be perfect for the Young Adult section of your local bookstore. But don't let that deter any of you well past the wonder years from reading it.
The charm of Richard Sala's art is especially evident in this book with its saturated blues and purples and
spontaneous linework. If you like this I recommend Peculia also.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Eric Hanson on September 7, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Richard Sala's newest work, Cat Burglar Black, is a tightly plotted tale of intrigue and mystery. Many familiar elements pervade the story: cute girls of great talent, creepy adults with ulterior motives, wretched weirdos with nearly disfigured appearances, mysterious settings, and an acute sense of dread. But unlike much of his past work, Cat Burglar Black feels like it could appeal to an audience beyond Sala's loyal followers. The gothic and grotesque componants of his past are muted and Sala concentrates more on developing a fine mystery that must be solved by his well developed protagonist, K. Westree. Westree is probably Sala's best conceived main character so far and her murky back story interweaves brillantly into Cat Burglar Black's suitably strange storyline.

Another great departure for Sala in this book is the fact that it is in full color, not the sinister black and white ink illustrations that he is so well known for. The switch to color does work to temper the dark overtones of his work and it is wholly appropriate for this tale - where mystery, not dread is the prevailing theme. Don't get me wrong, the book it still a dark work that only the genius, Richard Sala could produce. But this book, as the previous reviewer stated, could easily appeal to the young adult reader market with its teenage girl driven mystery plot. I think fans of Sala's previous work will still love Cat Burglar Black, as I did, but I hope he will also gain many new fans with this fantastic new adventure.

The best news is that not all elements of the story are concluded with this book, opening up the door to a possible series. I truly hope that we can read further exploits of K. Westree and her fine cohorts.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Andy Shuping on May 20, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is my first time reading one of Richard Sala's books and it's...interesting. I had to read this book twice to fully appreciate the story and the artwork, although I still have some mixed feelings about the book.

Overall the story is pretty fantastic. A strong young female character who can stand up for herself doesn't come along as often as it should in stories. And Sala does a masterful job of portraying K with her strength and weaknesses and has created a character that anyone can identify with, particularly young women I think. My mixed feelings come from a what appears to be a couple of plot holes with introducing characters that, at least in this story, have no real impact. Perhaps Sala is planning a second story in which this will be resolved, but I've found no evidence at the moment of this. I also had to read the book a second time to fully appreciate all of the aspects of the story, but I'm glad that I did.

The artwork isn't quite what I expected either, but it grew on me by the end of the book. The watercolor quality fits well with the story and gives it a almost ghostly feel to it. The villains of the story have a slight Gothic feel to them and are quite enjoyable as Sala expertly captures their emotions so that we are clued in early to who they really are.

Overall I enjoyed the book and would really like to see a sequel as K finds out what happened to her friends and parents. Hopefully Sala will create one for us.
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