by Erin Bow
I don’t normally post on the weekends, but my Plain Kate review kept getting pushed back and I wanted to make sure it got done now, as opposed to, say, Monday.
Opening line: “A long time ago, in a market town by a looping river, there lived an orphan girl called Plain Kate.”
Kate is the daughter of a woodcarver, who taught her to carve when she was very young. She is so talented at it that she expects to be a master before twenty. But then her father dies and her world falls apart.
This book, as I said before, made me cry for the last thirty pages. I mean this as a recommendation–it was heartbreaking on several different levels.
And I loved it. I loved the fact that the characters were incredibly nuanced. I didn’t feel that there was one who could be pointed to as the “bad guy.” In fact, I read an interview where Erin Bow did call one of the the villain and, while I could see it, my first reaction was honest surprise.
Kate is a wonderful heroine, proving that you don’t have to literally kick butt to be a fantastic character. I’m all for strong heroines, but I want different kinds of strength. Kate’s strength is quieter and less obvious than many and I loved that. I also loved her skill–in general characters who possess a great talent that they work to improve are some of my favorites. (Like Betsy Ray, or Tanaqui.)
Taggle definitely provided the comic relief, but he was also a good character in his own right. I liked the uncomfortableness of his transformation, the fact that it made him uneasy in his own skin.
The Eastern European setting was great. I’d love to see more fantasies exploring that culture. And Bow just seemed to get it right somehow, with the names and the general descriptions of towns and buildings and countryside.
One of my favorite bits were the Roamers. At first I just took their name at its face value. But if you say it quickly, it sounds like Romany, which they’re fairly obviously based on. Very nice detail.
All in all, this is one of the best new books I’ve read this year and I highly recommend it.
Book source: public library
Book information: Levine/Scholastic, 2010; mg/YA (SLJ says grades 4-8, but I’m not sure about this. I don’t know that I would hand it to a tender-hearted fourth grader, and I think that it’s such a strongly written book that high schoolers would also like it. Feel free to chime in with opinions on the subject.)
Oh, this book. It made me cry, which for me counts as a recommendation. And there are so many little bits I could mention that were lovely–the setting, Kat, Taggle–but they don’t manage to quite capture what it’s like to start a book and discover pretty quickly that it’s going to be good. [2010 in books]
This just won a big, fancy award in Canada, and it totally deserves it. This is a beautiful, perfect book, about loss and pain and the choices we make. Oh, and fairy tales, and rusalki, and talking cats and Roamers too. I love it, and I love Katerina Svetlana. [Oct. 2011]