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Plain Kate Hardcover – September 1, 2010
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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.
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
Top customer reviews
Since the writing is so entrancing and the challenges she faces are so relateable, I would say the age range of 12+ could easily be 10+, depending a parent's preferences. Either way, it's an enjoyable read. I'm 26 and as I said before, I couldn't put it down!
One caveat: I have no idea how accurate it is in relation to Russian culture. I can't speak to its cultural validity re: Russian spiritualism. All I know is that it was entertaining! So, Russian history buffs/people of Russian heritage should beware if possible misappropriation of Russian culture detours you.
TL;DR: Strong female protagonist, entrancing writing style with a well-paced plot, a worthy "big bad," an immersive world/setting, and an overall entertaining read. A true underdog story.
It tells the story of a young orphaned girl, Plain Kate, who has tremendous skills as a wood carver. Because of this, she is suspected of being a witch. Though she is not, she runs away from her home town when the suspicions make her life dangerous, and ends up being tangled in a powerful spell, a spell which she has to break.
Every novelist who creates a world in which magic is real takes risks. It is difficult to create a believable, truthful world of magic. But the world Ms. Bow creates has a solidity that comes from its grounding in what is, essentially, the European Dark Ages. And it has believability because using magic has a cost. Here, when a witch casts a spell, something must be given for the magic to be received. It's a clever, and truthful, conceit.
Of course, when I say I liked this novel, I mean that it moved me. Never to laughter. Sometimes to hope. Mostly, to tears. This is a brutal story, but not of violence on the order of The Hunger Games. Rather, it is the brutality of real life--loss, fear, pain, revenge--couched in a story of magical realism. I recommend it highly.
Plain Kate lives and works with her father, a woodcarver. However, her life is dramatically altered when her father dies of the plague. Not only does she have nowhere to go, but there are rumours spreading that she is a witch. Friendless and alone, she tries to find a home among the gypsies (who are themselves shunned), but her vulnerability has caught the eye of a magician with a dark purpose.
The main story is rather melancholy, but the writing is intensely evocative and Bow takes you on quite a journey through a very simple tale. The characters are lovely, especially Taggle the talking cat - one of my favourite characters of all time. The ending is poignant on multiple levels.
Telling you any more would spoil the book, so I'll just say that it's highly recommended!