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Plain Kate Hardcover – Sep 1 2010

4.7 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books; 1 edition (Sept. 1 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0545166640
  • ISBN-13: 978-0545166645
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.8 x 21.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 499 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #215,069 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

Quill & Quire

Katerina Svetlana, the daughter of a woodcarver, has a rare gift: she can whittle wood with such perfection that her creations often reveal uncomfortable secrets about people, causing them to fear her. First-time YA author Erin Bow uses this premise to create a story set in some long-ago northern country, in which magic and witchcraft compete with honour, duty, and the struggle to survive.

Kate is a wanderer and an orphan. Preying on her loneliness (as well as her power), a stranger offers a trade: he will grant her deepest wish in return for her shadow. A bargain is struck, and Kate enters a whole new world.

And what a violent, unpredictable world it is. Bow pulls no punches when it comes to placing her characters in peril. A mob lynching, a spell involving nightly bloodletting, the burning of suspected witches – all are part of Kate’s journey. She is forced to sacrifice much in order to regain her shadow.

Bow, a published poet, writes exquisitely. We feel Kate’s blistered feet, see her delicate carving, hear the “plosh and clock” of a pole driving a boat down the river. Not a word is wasted: dialogue and description are pared down to essentials in a story that moves, for the most part, at an unrelenting pace.

As a heroine, Kate is anything but “plain.” Fierce, brave, honest, and determined, she meets every challenge head on. Her fierceness masks her fear, and her determination to make things right is held back by her self-doubt. She’s a heroine with flaws, and the reader desperately wants her to succeed in her quest.

Original and sometimes disturbing, Plain Kate is a compelling story of dark magic and a remarkable debut by a talented writer.


"... an effective and moving coming-of-age novel." -The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred review

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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

By Steven R. McEvoy HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on Nov. 12 2010
Format: Hardcover
This story is written in a Russian or Eastern European Fairy Tale style. In some ways, for older readers, it will be reminiscent of Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird. The story at times is dark, charming, and wistful, and at all times it is extremely entertaining. This debut novel will leave its mark on the reader, much as Kate's knife leaves her marks on wood.

For Kate is a wood carver; she is not yet in the guild, but her father is a guild master and it looks like it will only be a matter of time before Kate is a master also. All that is holding her back is her age. But then tragedy strikes - her father falls to the witch fever and passes away. The new guild master expels her from the only home she has ever known. She takes to sleeping in the bottom drawer of her father's stall in the market. She ekes out a living on the slight generosity and tolerance of the town. Yet soon a white witch comes to town. He has power and he stirs up trouble against Kate. She finally agrees to his demand and sells her shadow. Kate soon realizes she cannot live without her shadow and she needs to find out what the stranger Linays wanted it for and if there is a way she can stop him.

In a world of superstition, curses and cures, Kate must find her way alone and lonely. The story is compelling and the readers will find themselves not wanting to put the book down. The world created by Erin Bow is familiar to tales of old, with a young woman coming of age and finding her place in the world. It is an amazing story that is very well written, especially for a first novel.

Erin Bow is a particle physicist, who formerly worked at both CERN and Los Alamos labs, who has now become a poet and author. She resides in Kitchener, Ontario. She has written two volumes of poetry, and now a novel for young adults.
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Format: Hardcover
A fantastic, compelling read for YA fans of all ages that both conforms to and defies the norms of the YA heroine. If you're looking for a flighty, flirty airy heroine, look elsewhere; Plain Kate has substance, heart, guts, and a brain. She's the kind of heroine that should fill the marketplace more often, the kind that we want our children to aspire to be.

Plain Kate is the orphaned daughter of a masterful Wood Carver in an imagined fairytale past. Quite plain-looking, hence her nickname, Kate forges a future for herself when the Guild repossess her father's home and shop after his death by continuing his carving work. Already an oddity because of her skill with a carving knife and mismatching eyes, Plain Kate becomes the focus of the town's fear and ire when the seemingly helpful fiddler Linay comes to town and people start falling asleep and never waking up. Fearing she will be burnt for a witch, Kate agrees to sell her shadow to Linay in return for a means of escape and her hearts true wish.

Now Plain Kate is on the run, with no shadow, no family, no friends, no money, and a cat named Taggle who is suddenly gifted with the ability to talk.

Bow's prose is crafted, not one word superfluous or one comma out of place, and the world that she invokes is appropriately gritty and dirty for the social standing and financial situation of Kate, the orphaned daughter of a tradesmen in a Russian-esque imagined past. Bow has clearly done her research, but the facts don't bog down the prose. Instead, Bows familiarity with her subject infuses her tale with the sort of rich warmth and worldbuilding that come from the best storytellers.

What I love best is Taggle's dialogue - if cats could talk, I am certain that this is what they would sound like.
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Format: Paperback
This is a story about shadows. A story of blood. A story of magic. But above all it is the story of a girl finding her way in the world.

The big problem with book blogging is sometimes we get so swept up in all the new releases that we forget to look back at older titles. Which was one of the main motivations for me to join the Toronto chapter of the Forever Young Adult Book club. Though I haven’t managed to participate every month, this month I’m really glad I did.

Plain Kate is a fantasy novel (witches!) but there is a very traditional folklore feel to the story. The writing style was simple and straight forward and yet still poetic. It’s the kind of story that evokes a nostalgic feeling, reminding you of the fairy tales you were familiar with as a child – a young heroine, magic, danger and a valuable lesson all rolled into one. It was easy to imagine this as a tale passed down through generations, especially since Bow took so much care with the details of the setting. Plain Kate’s world is one heavily influenced by medieval Russia and you can tell a lot of research was done in order to depict this world properly. Small details that may not seem important, really helped to bring it to life in my imagination and only added to the traditional, fairy-tale feel of the whole novel.

I have to admit that Plain Kate was much darker than I expected. This isn’t a bad thing, just a surprising one. There are witch burnings, some blood lettings and some horribly violent townspeople. And it’s not just violence that gives this book its edge. The theme of revenge is present throughout Kate’s adventures. Through the character of Linay, Bow demonstrates how revenge can cloud someone’s judgement and twist their soul.
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