Review: Plain Kate by Erin Bow

“The most amazing, beautiful fantasy I have read in a long time. No epic love triangle, no self depreciating lead, simply a beautiful and heartbreaking fairy tale.”

Your verdict:

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (10 votes, average: 4.40 out of 5)
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Title:Plain Kate
Author:Bow, Erin
Publisher:Scholastic
Pages:336

Goodreads: The drizzle had broken into patches as they walked. As Drina scooped up the pale sand, Kate found herself standing in the smudge of shadow cast by the deadfall. She had never before noticed the way shadows gave things weight, made them look heavy and real and connected to the ground. Without hers…

She edged into the light.

Her shadow looked strange and thinned. It seemed not cast against the ground, but floating above it, like a fog. What Linay had said was true: No one would notice this, at first. It was just an uneasy little change, like the half-felt movement of a boat that slowly induces a great sickness.

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.

Words cannot describe the feelings I have for Plain Kate. Erin Bow gave me a gift, she gave all who read Plain Kate a gift. It’s the gift of a perfectly written story without all of the cliche’s that are hounding young adult literature at the moment. There is no love story for Kate, therefore no epic love triangle. Kate is a self aware heroine, she knows her faults and accepts them. Therefore there is no self depreciating lead character. Plain Kate is a book that you will continue to not only think about but to feel long after you have read it.

It’s hard for me to review Plain Kate. I almost thought about making this a blog post instead. I was afraid that if I praise the book and the author too much that it will read as hype, but I realized Plain Kate is not about hype, it is just about phenomenal story telling and that will show through even my rambling thoughts.

We begin with Kate being fanatically happy with her life. Her father is a Master Carver and has promised to take Kate on as his apprentice when she is old enough. The mother has long since past and Kate never knew her making the relationship with her father all the more important. Kate has strange colored eyes and isn’t much to look at so they dub her Plain Kate in the town. Kate is accepted, even though she is strange by her father’s tremendously positive reputation in the town.

Everyone is afraid of anyone who looks, talks or walks like a witch and when Kate’s father succumbs to witch’s fever, Kate has some growing up to do, and quickly! She is not old enough to take over his position so a new carver is sent to town, she is alone, homeless and missing her father but she does not whine. Kate picks herself up by her bootstraps and simply survives. It is then she meets a set of kittens and raises them. Two abandon her but one stays loyal and on the day the beautiful man in white comes to town, well that is the day Plain Kate’s adventure begins.

We are then taken on a magical journey of Gypsies, new scenery, magic, and heartbreak. Through-out Plain Kate I laughed and cried and was so invested in so many of the characters I became completely conflicted with myself. Erin Bow is simply a masterful story teller. Sometimes it takes a simple fairy tale to show you what you have been missing in your reading for so long. I strongly urge any fairy tale or fantasy lover to pick up a copy of Plain Kate. I assure you that you will immensely enjoy yourself.

You can read what Erin Bow is working on now by heading over to Book Chic Club and you can enter to win your very own copy of Plain Kate at Goodreads.

In which Erin Bow reads Plain Kate and shows off her stripper pole!

I received a copy of Plain Kate from the Publisher. It was an ARC therefore holds no monetary value. So there you have it FTC.

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8 Responses so far

  1. Gravatar

    I’ve been dying to read this one since I heard Erin read from it at BEA. It’s refreshing to hear about a book with a strong, young, female character! Great review! Thanks!

  2. Gravatar

    I agree with all of this! Although, I pretty much spent the end of Plain Kate crying, being all sensative and such.

    Taggle FTW!

  3. Gravatar

    Oh I cried like a blubbering baby as well. Over Linay, over Taggle, over Wen…

  4. Gravatar

    This is at the top of my wish list for the exact reasons you state right away in your review: a strong, flawed but confident female lead who isn’t torn between two guys. Amen.

  5. Gravatar

    PLAIN KATE is great YA literature-yes literature!

    I’m 50 years beyond YA, but I care deeply about children’s literature. I loved PLAIN KATE. Five stars.

    And it’s not just me. I hear that Kate is being snapped up by international publishers.

    And there is Arthur A. Levine, editor extraodinare, who obviously loves Plain Kate, and also multi-award 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. (I was there.)

    “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”. BEA 2010

    Lots of us not so distinguished 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 it’s very scary, sad and beautiful-all the while a very gratifying book.

    YA blogs and reviewers are raving about Plain Kate! And for good reason!

  6. Gravatar

    Almost your time, Kate. Almost.
    For those of you who would like to know, Taggle is alive and well.
    Take care, mira.

  7. Gravatar

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