For someone who’s ‘review forte’ isn’t YA, I seem to be reviewing a lot of it lately. Okay, it’s not really A LOT, but it’s quite a number for someone who finds comfort in General Fiction (Adult Fiction) and Non-fiction. My foray into Holly Black’s Curse Worker Series was quite impulsive on my part. Myra sent me a message telling me that our dear friends in Pansing has sent her a copy of Red Glove, book 2 of the curse worker series. She asked if I’d be interested in reading and reviewing the book. In the interest of knowing context, I decided to purchase a copy of the 1st book in the series: White Cat.
The trend in YA literature seems to show that as much as there are female protagonists, there is but a trickle of male protagonists. White Cat is part of the latter. In Book 1, we follow Cassel who is part of a family of curse workers who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the touch of their hands. However, curse work is illegal, therefore Cassel belongs to a family of criminals. Being the only one in the family who isn’t a curse worker, Cassel immersed himself in school trying to maintain what he thought was a normal persona while running a little betting ring of his own.
White Cat begins with Cassel’s dreams of a White Cat which leads him to sleep walk. His sleepwalking gets him in trouble in school and eventually opens a can of beans about his family, his past, and inevitably about himself. The protagonist, Cassel, isn’t the straight-laced kid, nor is he a ‘normal’ kid. He is complicated. A kid trying to fit in and looking average in the outside world, while trying to be a bit more crooked in front of the family. He reminds me of Artemis Fowl. The only difference is that Holly Black rendered more tension in Cassel’s character. We see him as someone who has a conscience, but at the same time someone who gets excited about running a con.
As he digs more about his past—the truth and how dark and formidable it can be, he also gains what he thought he’d never get—friends. It’s not easy to believe Cassel’s character, it takes a while. When he unravels, he becomes more likeable. I suppose this has to do with his becoming more vulnerable as he discovers the layers of lies that surround him.
White Cat has a mafia feel to it: crime families being overthrown and loyalty and betrayal evident in the story. The book isn’t shy about a little dark details on murder or killing someone. The difference, I suppose, from a real mafia theme is the use of powers, or in this case, curses. I enjoyed the fact that this novel didn’t limit itself to Cassel’s personal issues and neither did it revolve around his first love, but it ties up a few other stories—Cassel’s family dynamics and the hierarchy in a crime family/enterprise.
White Cat wasn’t what I thought it would be and I mean this in a good way. I think of YA as this scary territory of fiction. I do not know what of the many books in this genre are stories that suit my taste, hence my hesitation to pick out a book unless strongly recommended by people I trust. White Cat delivered something more, it offered an interesting plot that had layers to work on, making it a good enough book 1 to a series.
Holly Black set up the stage for Cassel’s character to grow and unravel. No knots were tied cleanly and no plots were completely closed. I like that there are twists and turns we can look forward to in the second book. White Cat isn’t a perfect book, there were some parts that could have been squeezed for more. A better set-up to the story could have been done, but I think it’s a nice break to the more typical YA plot.
I am crossing my fingers that the series turns out better than I expected. I am praying that when I start reading book 2, I would feel the urge to get a copy of book 3. I’m hoping that this would turn out to be like my Hunger Games experience.
Holly Black’s first book, Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, was published in 2002 by Simon & Schuster received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, and was included in the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults. Holly has since written two other books in the same universe, Valiant (2005), and the sequel to Tithe, Ironside (2007), which spent five weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Valiant was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award for Young Readers and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. She also collaborated with her friend, Caldecott award winning artist Tony DiTerlizzi to create the Spiderwick Chronicles. (Taken from her bio available from her website).
White Cat is the recipient of Kirkus Best Children’s Books.
AWB Reading Challenge Update: 56 (35)