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Plain Kate Hardcover – September 1, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 4-8–When Kate's wood-carver father dies, she is left to support herself with her woodworking talent while living in her father's former market stall with a cat named Taggle. When Linay, a mysterious and magical stranger, comes to town and buys Kate's shadow, he gives her the money she needs to escape her village home, where people are blaming her for the hard times that have fallen on them. It is rumored that her talent comes from magic, but Kate's journey leads to unexpected consequences and danger for her and the Roamer family whom she joins. It's up to Kate; her new friend, Drina; and Taggle to defeat Linay with their own magic, as they come to discover the truth about his past and his desire for revenge. Kate's journey involves physical, mental, and magical growth, presenting a character who truly matures and changes over the course of her story, and the bittersweet conclusion reflects honest choices and Kate's newfound strength. Supporting characters, from villagers to the tormented Linay, are presented realistically and move the story forward smoothly. Bow's first novel shows a solid control of story and characters, and the careful and evocative writing reflects her work as a published poet.Beth L. Meister, Milwaukee Jewish Day School, WI
© Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

Young Kate is plain as a stick but a gifted wood carver. Her father had warned her that foolish people might think that she guides her knife with magic, and after he dies of fever, Kate becomes the target of suspicion and fear. As a plague worsens, Kate realizes that she must flee her village, and she reluctantly makes an odd bargain with a stranger: in exchange for her shadow, the stranger will provide essential supplies and grant a single wish. Soon Plain Kate is entangled in an elaborate noose of magic and revenge. In her debut novel, poet Bow writes with an absorbing cadence, creating evocative images that trigger the senses and pierce the heart. With familiar folktale elements, she examines the dark corners of human fear and creates intriguing, well-drawn characters, including Taggle, Kate’s talking cat, who adds a welcome lightness. The taut, bleak tale builds to a climax that unfortunately falters, solving a central dilemma with magical convenience. Still, with this debut, Bow establishes herself as a novelist to watch. Grades 7-12. --Lynn Rutan

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 630L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books; 1 edition (September 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0545166640
  • ISBN-13: 978-0545166645
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,054,728 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Kelly (Fantasy Literature) VINE VOICE on September 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Plain Kate is the orphaned daughter of a master woodcarver, and a skilled woodcarver herself. She lives in the town of Samilae, whose inhabitants are a superstitious lot; when the crops fail or disease strikes, they cast around for someone to blame. A Roamer (Rom), perhaps. A person with a deformity. Or, maybe, someone with a skill they think is uncanny. An enigmatic stranger arrives in Samilae with a terrible plan, and vulnerable Kate is just the right person to serve as the linchpin in it. He frames her for witchcraft, then offers to help her escape... for a price.

Witch hunts, prejudice, diabolical bargains... Plain Kate is a much darker book than you might expect based on the jaunty cover art. When you do reach the roof-walking scene, you'll recognize it immediately, but you might be surprised at the dire circumstances that surround it! Yet it's not without its share of brightness to balance it out: compassion, courage, love, heroic sacrifice, and a smattering of humor.

Plain Kate is written in the style of a fairy tale and draws heavily on Russian folklore. Erin Bow's prose, especially when describing nature or Kate's craft, is lovely and lyrical. The plot is epic in a way, since the fate of a country rests on the outcome, but at the same time it's a very intimate story. Almost all of the major characters turn out to be connected. The two major threads are Kate's struggle to stop the villain and to find a place to belong, and the villain's quest for revenge and the deep hurt at its core. The central events pit love against fear and bitterness in a beautiful, moving way.

I say "love," but I wish to clarify that I don't mean romantic love. There is, in fact, no romance whatsoever. If you're sick of romantic YA fantasy, you'll like Plain Kate.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Amanda M. Hayes VINE VOICE on September 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
What is the worth of a shadow?

Plain Kate values hers less than her life. To escape being burned at the stake, she trades her shadow to a witch-white stranger and takes to the road. She has her carving knife and a cat; she is not alone. Soon, though, someone will notice the way light passes through her. Who can she trust? Where can she belong when she's been marked by magic--what will Linay, cruel and kind, do with the shadow he's taken?

I can so easily imagine _Plain Kate_ as one of those books you read when you're young and remember forever, for all the people in it and the way the ending touched you. Honestly, I wish I could've read it at thirteen or fourteen so it could have the same immortal glow in my heart as the stories I cherished then. Perhaps it will manage that anyway. Erin Bow's first novel (I'd never guess it was her first if the book itself didn't tell me so) is a lovely, rending tearjerker, the unwanted adventure of a girl in an impossible position. Kate Carver is brave, and maybe wise, to wish above all else not to face the world alone. Sometimes her companion and sometimes her nemesis, Linay holds on to hate and love too tightly. These two show between them the danger in trading away any part of yourself.

Their story combines frequently-used elements of fantasy like witch burning and gypsies with rarer hints of Russian culture and rich Russian folklore. A little past the halfway mark the tone of the book shifts, when Linay and Kate meet again. Events, mantled in a chill fog, flow towards disaster from that point on. The finale and its aftermath demand a box of tissues close at hand. This climax is where the story stumbles, though, in a way that hurts it, because the final sequence of events is confusing, as is the logic behind them.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kate Coombs VINE VOICE on September 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The language of this book is so poetic than when I finally finished and read the author's bio, I was utterly unsurprised to learn that she is a published poet. But it's not just the language that reads like a poem. The story itself has a kind of poetic grace that harks back to the bards and ballads of medieval Europe, or maybe to the retelling of those tales, say, in Tennyson's poem, "The Lady of Shallot." If this tale is romanticized, however, it's only in the sense of being stylized; Plain Kate is a tale well suited to the age of the Black Death, and in fact, one key plot feature is a vengeful, magically induced plague.

Not just Kate, but Plain Kate, this girl in medieval Russia (or some Slavic country!) barely manages to survive after the death of her father, a wood carver. For one thing, even though she is a talented carver herself, the guild of carvers sends a man to take over her father's business and home, leaving her living in the tiny street stall where her father used to sell his work.

Even so, Plain Kate is getting by until the arrival of a strange man named Linay who offers to buy her shadow in exchange for granting her a wish. When Plain Kate turns him down, he proceeds to use his magical powers to frame her in the eyes of the villagers as a witch, a charge they're all too willing to accept.

Knowing she will die without some kind of assistance, Plain Kate agrees to sell her shadow to Linay. In return, he gives her supplies and the companionship she longs for in the unexpected form of her cat being able to talk. Telling her cat to keep his mouth shut, Plain Kate manages to convince the Roamers (gypsies) to let her join them on their journey out of town.
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