Monday, September 6, 2010

Review/ Plain Kate by Erin Bow

Monday, September 6, 2010
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 charms are so fine that some even call her "witch-blade" — a dangerous nickname in a town 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 town that seems set to burn her, 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 that she can't live shadowless forever — and that Linay's designs are darker than she ever dreamed. (Publisher's summary from Powell's Books)
There is a lot about Plain Kate that makes this book an interesting read, and although I really liked the book I did not love it.

The first thing I like about the book was the setting. Bow’s vivid descriptions of medieval Russia does a lot to create the perfect backdrop and mood for Kate’s story. The country folk are a superstitious lot and quick to find evil even in a young orphan girl. I also liked the addition of the gypsies and the fact that while they operated on the fringe of society because of the superstition surrounding them, they were themselves a very superstitious lot.

The plot was slow moving and I never fully connected to Kate. I liked her and felt sorry that her life was difficult. I also liked reading about her ability to carve and the way Bow made her talent come to life, but I also felt that the deal she makes with the witch Linay felt wrong from the get go and that even Kate recognized this, but still made the deal. Later in the book, Linay tells, Kate that he chose her because of she was weak, but I never saw Kate as weak. She managed to survive after her father died without asking help from anyone. Does this sound like a weak character to you? What she was, was lonely and it is this loneliness that Linay uses to his advantage.

The best part of the book for me was Kate’s cat, Taggle. In exchange for Kate’s shadow, Linay must make her a gift and this gift is giving Taggle the ability to speak.  I think Bow must be a cat lover as she definitely had Taggle down pat. He is as loyal as any cat could be, but still very independent and self-serving.

While Plain Kate is a book I am glad I read, it did not grab me in the way I had hope it would. Bow’s writing is lovely, rich, even lyrical, but the plot was too slow for my taste.  I also feel that a middle school audience would find the book tedious and a YA audience would not appreciate the lack of action or romance.
Source: ARC copy received from Book It Forward Tours


Emidy (Une Parole) said...

I love the concept of Plain Kate, but too bad the plot is slow! That's never good, and it makes you rush through the book just to get to the good parts. Great review, though!

Nomes said...

well written review - I think this of one of those books some people will love and others will be a bit meh about.

the synopsis is not really my genre, hey?

Anonymous said...

I think you have missed the proverbial boat on Plain Kate.

I loved it. Five stars. And not just me:

There is Arthur A Levine, editor extrodinare, who obviously loves Plain Kate and also prize winning author Meg Rosoff.

Here's what Levine had to say about Erin Bow and Plain Kate at Book Expo America in NY May 2010

"Arthur Levine of Scholastic set the bar fairly high when he began his remarks about Plain Kate by Erin Bow by saying that because he had a hand in bringing Brian Jacques, (Redwall series) Philip Pullman (Golden Compass) and J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) to U.S. audiences, “I’ve been sent a lot of fantasy, some of it quite good. But it’s very rare for a book to stand out for me the way Plain Kate did.”

The story of a girl who loses her father and is imperiled by suspicions that she is a witch, Levine said Bow’s prose has the “lyrical strength and classic proportions” of master writers. “She is a truly original talent,” Levine said, evidenced by a “breathless e-mail” he got from an associate at the most recent London Book Fair who said Printz Award winner Meg Rosoff had read Plain Kate and couldn’t stop raving about it. Rosoff’s blurb – “anything but plain, full of poetry, magic, sorrow and joy” – will be on the cover".

1.Meg Rosoff's Prizes and Awards
•2004 How I Live Now — Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, winner
•2005 How I Live Now — Michael L. Printz Award, (US) winner
•2005 How I Live Now — Branford Boase Award, (first novel), winner
•2005 How I Live Now — LA Times Book Prize, shortlisted
•2005 How I Live Now — Whitbread Prize, shortlisted
•2005 How I Live Now — Der Luchs des Jahres, winner
•2006 How I Live now — Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis, shortlisted
•2007 Just In Case — Carnegie Medal in Literature, winner
•2007 Just in Case — LA Times Book Prize, shortlisted
•2007 Just in Case — Booktrust Teenage Prize, shortlisted
•2007 Just In Case — Costa Book Awards, shortlisted
•2008 Just In Case — Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis, winner
•2008 What I Was — Carnegie Medal in Literature, shorlisted
•2008 What I Was — Costa Book Awards, shortlisted
•2009 What I Was — New Angle Prize, shortlisted
•2009 What I Was — Der Luchs des Jahres, winner

Lots of not so distinguished readers and critics have also read and loved Plain Kate.

Who else but a poet would write:

"It was just an uneasy little change, like the half-felt movement of a boat that slowly induces a great sickness."

Plain Kate has an exciting plot, indelible characters and elegant prose. This book is worth reading for the pure pleasure of the language. Really, it has much in common with Ms. Bow's award winning book of poetry, "Ghost Maps" which tells the life story of a WWII vet with simple beauty, extraordinary grace and feeling.

My 13 year old nephew loved it and
has already given it as a gift to a 13 year old girl. A 67 year old male friend found the ending hard to read because he didn't want it to end and because he found it very scary and sad-all the while a gratifying book.

Of course every reader is entitled to his or her opinion, but I would suggest that your blog readers check out the multitude of other YA blogs that rave about Plain Kate.

Jan von Harz said...

Dear Anonymous, You are correct in that every one has the right to their opinion, and just because I did not like the book does not mean that it was not something other might like.

Bow's writing was lovely, but I did not relate with her characters well. I am glad your nephew like it but the majority of my students would not find it to their taste.

Thank you for your comments but next time it might be nice to leave a name too.

Lori said... about that comment....!

Anyway, I read this last week and really enjoyed it, but I can definitely understand why you didn't connect with the characters. Taggle was my favorite character too!

thebookfairyhaven said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
thebookfairyhaven said...

I love the concept of this, but I'm also not sure if I'd actually go out and buy this. Perhaps I'll pick it up if I see it at the library, but I don't think I'd actively go out and buy it. Thoroughly enjoyed reading your review. Thought your response to Anon was polite and definitely justified - I doubt I would have been able to respond in the same way, judging from the tone of Anon's comment.

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