Plain Kate by Erin Bow

Plain Kate is not plain at all, and neither is her story told by Erin Bow in Plain Kate (Scholastic 2010).  Kate lives in a world where magic creeps around corners and hides in the shadows.  People pay good money for charms to attract good luck and to repel evil, but they are just as quick to blame–and burn–witches for any trouble that comes their way.  That’s both good and bad news for Kate.  She is the woodcarver’s daughter, and her skill with a carving knife seems to bring dead wood to  life in her charms. Her charms are so good that some call her “witch-blade,” a nickname that becomes dangerous when hard times befall her village.

First, her father dies, leaving Kate an orphan with no place to live except a drawer in the market stall.  Then a deadly fog wraps its icy fingers through the village, and the townspeople start gathering wood to burn a witch.  Desperate, Kate turns to the musical stranger, Linay, for help.  He offers a trade:  He will help her escape and grant her heart’s desire in exchange for her shadow.  With her cat Taggle (who now talks), Kate joins a band of gypsies to make her escape.  There she finds friendship as well as mistrust and betrayal.  When her path again crosses that of Linay, she realizes that his plans for her shadow will bring more death and destruction.  She must stop him, but it will require a great sacrifice.

I loved Kate, not plain at all.  Rather, she is brave and resourceful.  She also yearns to belong to a community.  When her father dies, she brings home a cat, Taggle, to her drawer in the market stall.  When the villagers turn on her, she joins the band of gypsies and befriends Drina.  When even the gypsies turn on her, she still cannot turn away.  Through it all, she keeps Taggle by her side.  As Taggle gains a voice, he becomes something more than just a cat.  He is proud (as cats are) and funny (even though he doesn’t mean to be).  He is the star of her heart, and she is his.

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