A.K.A. Wood Angel in the UK
Release Date: September 1, 2010
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Received: Library, now own
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf
Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep magic. As the wood-carver's daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden talismans are so fine that some even call her “witch-blade”: a dangerous nickname in a country where witches are hunted and burned in the square.
For Kate and her village have fallen on hard times. Kate’s father has died, leaving her alone in the world. And a mysterious fog now covers the countryside, ruining crops and spreading fear of hunger and sickness. The townspeople are looking for someone to blame, and their eyes have fallen on Kate.
Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: In exchange for her shadow, he’ll give Kate the means to escape the angry town, and what’s more, he’ll grant her heart’s wish. It’s a chance for her to start over, to find a home, a family, a place to belong. But Kate soon realizes she can't live shadowless forever -- and that Linay's designs are darker than she ever dreamed.
There are some books that are so perfect, so emotional, that mere words can't do them justice. Plain Kate is one such book. The lyrical writing sucked me in from the very first page, but it is Kate and her cat Taggle that have stolen my heart. I finished this book in record speed due to the smooth pacing, lyrical writing, and engaging plot and characters. Unlike most books in the YA market lately, Plain Kate is a standalone and not part of a series.
In the beginning
From the very first line you'll know that this is a fairy tale. It is not a retelling, but it is instead a story that can stand on its own among all of the great fairy tales. I'm not usually the type of reader who cares overly much for writing style and I only really take note when it is particularly great or especially bad. Plain Kate falls solidly at the top of the former category. Erin Bow's writing made me wish I was a child again so I could hand this book to my mother and ask her to read it to me.
Though her writing is beautiful and atmospheric, I think the best word to describe it is emotional. I can't recall a time where I had such an instant connection with a character as I did with Kate. I loved her in that fiercely protective, inexplicable way that a parent loves a child--regardless of who they are or what they do. My love for her only grew further as the story went on and I began to know her as a strong, determined, loyal, and brave woman.
Oh don't worry about me, I'm just sobbing my eyes out
So it was from the very first chapter that my heart was already firmly lodged in my throat and tears were already pricking my eyes. Because this is a fairy tale, and we all know what happens to parents in fairy tales, right?
And that is just the beginning. Oh but Erin Bow is a cruel, wonderfully amazing writer. She puts poor Kate through so, so much. My heart just broke again and again for Kate, but I was utterly captivated by her journey. Prepare yourself though. Kate's story is dark and disturbing, not unlike fairy tales pre-Disnification.
The one difference between Plain Kate and a fairy tale is that Plain Kate contains so much more depth than your average fairy tale. The story is intricate and multi-layered with an enthralling mystery and a resolution that I did not see coming at all.
And you know by now how I feel about characters, right? Oh my gosh, how can I even explain these characters? Every single one was perfectly, beautifully, heartbreakingly rendered. Each had so much depth and backstory. Unraveling their histories and seeing how they were all connected together was fascinating. Linay, the man who barters for Kate's shadow and sets the story in motion, was a complex man who plays the role of the villain but is really so much more.
I haven't mentioned my absolute favorite character yet. That would be Taggle, Kate's talking cat and the "heart's wish" that she receives as payment for her shadow. Taggle is...amazing. I don't usually love animals that talk, but I ADORE Taggle. He truly was Kate's heart's wish and the way Erin Bow wrote their relationship was absolutely heartbreaking and perfect and beautiful and just...beyond compare.
Seriously, don't read this in public
Some books need to come with a warning not to read them in public because your emotional response will be 1) Uncontrolable, and 2) Embarrassing or difficult to explain to strangers. So I'm warning you now: DON'T READ THIS BOOK IN PUBLIC! Particularly the final quarter. Was I sobbing my eyes out before? Ok, that was nothing. I was BAWLING by the end.
Because this is a fairy tale, you can kind of guess what's going to happen sometimes. Certain things are inevitable and I read those scenes like an angry child, stubbornly digging my heels into the ground and then collapsing on the ground kicking and screaming in protest (not literally though, I didn't embarrass myself that much in public).
*FYI, I was just asked by one of my patrons if everything was ok because my eyes are all glassy with tears as I'm writing this and remembering those scenes. See what I mean about the seriousness of that warning?
But I rallied and read beyond those scenes, picking myself up like Kate and continuing on despite the pain. And it was so worth it. By the end, I was still crying, but my tears had turned from tears of anguish to bittersweet tears of acceptance and hope. I don't usually like to say much about the endings of books, but I have to say that this ending is the best possible ending ever. Erin Bow is simply amazing.
And they lived happily ever after
I hope that if you read this book that you can feel even a fraction of what I'm feeling. It is a gift and I want to give it to you. I'm so deeply moved. A number of my library patrons read this book for their mother-daughter book club and I couldn't think of a better choice.
If I still haven't convinced you, then maybe Krystle can. It was her amazing review that made me pick up Plain Kate when I did and I can't thank her enough.
Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key
Do you have any questions about Plain Kate that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!
Feel free to ask in the comments!
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