The end of August has turned out to offer me my best reads of the summer. I’ve read three dynamite books in a row. Plain Kate, Erin Bow’s debut, is one of them. I sped through this gorgeous, captivating fantasy. It is the perfect summer-is-almost-gone-and-I-almost-have-to-go-back-to-work escape book. It’s always exciting to discover an author who is new to you, because you can look forward to reading many more stories in the future. I’m certainly up for whatever Bow produces next because Plain Kate is a beauty.
Kate, known to all as Plain Kate, has always had an astonishing talent for carving. Some whisper that it isn’t simply a gift, rather that it’s magic, and where she lives, to be called a witch is to risk persecution and even death. When her father dies, she becomes vulnerable to the townspeople’s suspicions. Then, as happens in all the best stories, a stranger comes to town. Linay is a witch, and he wants Kate’s shadow, promising her her heart’s wish in exchange. When things become too dangerous for her to remain at home, Kate agrees, and her choice to live shadowless leads her in search of a new place to belong, and though she doesn’t realize it, towards adventure and the darkest magic she could imagine.
I loved the creepiness of this tale. As you go, you’ll experience a growing sense of menace. Linay is a complex and at times, quite sympathetic baddie. Kate is gutsy. She reminded me of Lyra in Pullman’s books, and that can’t be a bad thing. Bow demonstrates real creativity in the premise, which always impresses me in fantasy, where you so often see the same ideas trotted out in story after story. It is very fine writing – crafted, but not overdone. It is very visual, but you won’t get bogged down in excessive description. Bow chooses where to focus carefully. You may cry. It’s awfully sad in places. Oh, and the cat. The cat. He is wonderful from whisker to tail tip. I think Meg Rosoff put it best in the blurb she wrote for the jacket. She writes that the book features “possibly the most delightful talking cat in children’s literature.” No joke. Taggle pretty much stole the show for me. He is a riot and a scamp and a love all at once.
Plain Kate is published by Scholastic, and it is not one you want to miss this fall. A standout. If I haven’t convinced you, you can listen to some more gushing at Scholastic’s Fall 2010 Librarian Preview Webcast.