Plain Kate

Erin Bow, Scholastic/Levine, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-545-16664-5
After her father's death, the orphaned heroine of Bow's YA debut novel supports herself by carving wooden talismans in a vaguely Russian village ruled by superstition. When strange things start happening, Kate, already considered "halfway to a witch" because of her knife skills, must leave or risk being burned at the stake. She makes a bargain with Linay, a real witch, trading her shadow for things she needs to flee as well as her "heart's wish," which, poignantly, turns out to be someone to talk to: her cat, Taggle, can now speak. Kate connects with a caravan of "Roamers," and it soon becomes clear that Linay took her shadow for evil purposes. Despite the talking animal (who nearly steals the show) and graceful writing (Kate carries Taggle around her neck, "draped bonelessly, like a fur collar with glittering eyes"), this is a dark and complex tale, full of violence—knives cut a lot more than wood. The ending, which reverses nearly every bad thing that has happened along the way, is a bit much, but Kate is undeniably a sympathetic character deserving of happiness. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/16/2010
Release date: 09/01/2010
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