Monday, June 13, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Plain Kate by Erin Bow Review and Give-Away

About the book: 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.
First Line: "A long time ago, in a market town by a looping river, there lived an orphan girl called Plain Kate."

One great line: "He had a voice like a fine rasp: rough but polishing." (This is one of several places that Bow uses images of woodworking in her descriptions, 79)

What others have said: 
Booklist:   "In her debut novel, poet Bow writes with an absorbing cadence, creating evocative images that trigger the senses and pierce the heart. With familiar folktale elements, she examines the dark corners of human fear and creates intriguing, well-drawn characters, including Taggle, Kate’s talking cat, who adds a welcome lightness. The taut, bleak tale builds to a climax that unfortunately falters, solving a central dilemma with magical convenience. Still, with this debut, Bow establishes herself as a novelist to watch. Grades 7-12. --Lynn Rutan 

New York Times Book Review: “Plain Kate,” her first young adult novel, demonstrates a mature, haunting artistry. Resonantly threaded into the story are elements of fantasy, Russian fairy tales and historical fact, creating, to use Barbara Tuchman’s phrase, a distant mirror, in which Kate’s adolescent struggles for acceptance, companionship, love and vocation are achingly, believably familiar and real." Sherie Posesorski

What I Thought: 
I really enjoyed the dark, fairy tale tone of Bow's writing. The characters were far from flat and I found myself attached to them, in spite of the fact that some of them were so dark. I've always enjoyed tales of someone being mistreated because of being different and how they triumph in the end. The lyrical writing of Bow carefully crafts her tale in a way that is reminiscent of Avi's, Crispin and Seer of Shadows. This is a story of loss, regret, and revenge and watching Kate navigate in this mystical and cold world is what kept me reading. The connections between the characters were complicated and sometimes confusing. I think older middle school readers and younger young adult would enjoy this story. Seriously, who wouldn't love a talking cat! 

About The Author:

Inspiration for Plain Kate: 
"I read a lot of fairy tales. I find that with the German, Nordic, and French ones, even if I haven’t heard of them, they seem familiar, as if they were all set in the same Fairy Tale Kingdom...
"Russian tales hit that sweet spot between familar and strange. They come from just over the edge of the map, smelling of new spices and long roads. Maybe because they are less familiar, they seem wilder and darker than the Grimm tales.

"Anyway, I read this huge set of Russian tales, and fell under their spell, and while under that spell wrote Plain Kate. The setting turned out more Eastern European than Russian, but I hope the wild strangeness of the Russian tales does come through." See the rest of this interview here.

On research and creating Kate's world: "So when researching the townsfolk of Kate’s world, I pretended it was the Polish/Lithuanian frontier in the 16th century, and there I got architecture and food and the flavor of the language, but invented a witch craze that’s very different from the real one." See rest of this interview here.

Anyone who comments before June 20th will be entered to win a copy of Plain Kate. 

Don't forget to check out the other MMGM bloggers:
-Michael Gettel-Gilmartin is featuring THE INCORRIGIBLE CHILDREN OF ASHTON PLACE. Click HERE to read more about it.

-Barbara Watson continues her special MMGMM summer series by spotlighting THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK. Click HERE to see what she thinks.

-Joanne Fritz is highlighting SECOND FIDDLE. Click HERE to read her thoughts.

-The lovely Shannon O'Donnell (aka #2) always has fabulous MG love going on at her blog on Mondays. Click HERE to see what she has going on today. 

And then, there's always the Ringleader of MMGM, Shannon Messenger. She's reviewing book one of the Pendragon series on her blog today. Plus she has a GIVEAWAY HERE.


  1. A copy of Plain Kate is at my library and it's def. on my tbr list!

  2. Welcome to MMGM, Pam. And to the the fifties...oh man, toooo funny on your blog name.

    So, so agree on Plain Kate. I have on my Kindle-but, it's a book I want to get in hardcover so I can see in on my book shelf. And that is why my book budget is a liiiiittle out of control!

  3. Welcome to MMGM! I've heard of this one but not read it. It sounds like just the sort of book my kids and I should aloud together.

  4. Welcome, Pam!

    I already own this in hardcover so please give it away to someone else, but just wanted to add my two cents: I LOVED this book! Totally. The language is so poetic (I'd heard that she was a poet first) and the story so unusual. Couldn't you see Johnny Depp playing Linay in a movie version?

    Funny how the NYT calls it young adult. I'd call it upper MG.

  5. This sounds so good. Totally my kind of book. Thanks for the info.

    tmilstein at gmail dot com

  6. Laura- Does that mean you don't want to win your own copy?

    Deb and Barbara- Thanks for the welcome! I love middle grade!

    Joanne- OMG, yes Johnny Depp would be perfect! I almost missed this because of it's classification as YA but I'd read a review that argued it should be upper middle grade and I agree. It's interesting that there some that think it is too dark for middle grade.

  7. Please, enter me. I've been meaning to read this one, and reading the inspiration behind the story just made me want to read it more. Thanks for the great review and giveaway!

  8. Welcome Pam. I've heard great things about this and you're making me really want to read this. Please enter me in your contest.

  9. This sounds wonderful! I will def. be adding it to my TBR list. :-)

  10. What a great review. Welcome to MMGM--I look forward to reading many more of your reviews.

    Must.Read.This.Book. I love the idea of exchanging a shadow. Totally dark!

  11. This book is my kind of book. Great pick and review. I'm salivating a bit.

  12. I can't agree more - this is such a beautiful book. It takes the reader down into this magical and dark story. Plus, it's a guarantee to fall in love with Taggle.


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