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Plain Kate

By Erin Bow

A knife-sharp debut novel that leaves its mark.

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 charms are so fine that some even call her "witch-blade" - a dangerous nickname in a town 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 town that seems set to burn her, 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 that she can't live shadowless forever - and that Linay's designs are darker than she ever dreamed.

"Plain Kate is anything but plain. Full of poetry, magic, humor, sorrow, and joy - and featuring possibly the most delightful talking cat in children's literature. A wonderful book." - Meg Rosoff, author of How I Live Now

"Erin Bow's deceptively simple prose steals over you like an enchanted fog: haunting, mysterious, and full of wonders." - Elizabeth C. Bunce, author of A Curse Dark as Gold

Reviews and Awards

Winter 2010-2011 Kids' Indie Next List
YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults 2011

"Plain Kate, [Bow’s] first young adult novel, demonstrates a mature, haunting artistry... The plot unfolds with the swiftness and dramatic urgency of an adventure tale, yet each event has a measured gravity.... [An] outstanding novel." - New York Times

⋆ “It is an understatement to say that Kate (called “Plain Kate” by most) has a hard life: she is recently orphaned, she is widely thought to be a witch, and she is unable to make a living as a carver, despite her considerable talent, because she can’t afford the guild training. This is only the beginning of her woes, however, as Kate impulsively sells her shadow to survive and then spends the rest of the novel trying to correct this horrible mistake. The shadow is part of a spell that will be used to destroy an entire town, the plan of a brother devastated by the death of his sister, an accused witch. Kate, alone except for her talking cat, would be excused were she to only disappear and try to survive, but she was raised too well for that, and she steadfastly faces danger, ostracism, pain, and fear, understanding that an easy life is not always the best one. Kate’s endless series of horrible circumstances could be crushingly dark in less adept hands, but Bow seamlessly integrates ironic humor and existential distance, keeping readers, like Kate, quietly convinced that where there’s life, there’s hope. This sprawling landscape, dotted with superstitious villages and noble but equally uninformed gypsies, is superbly developed; it is entirely clear how Kate finds herself accused of being a witch when she is really only an intelligent, talented young woman. Realistic fiction fans may also be drawn to Kate’s grueling, dramatic story, as under the fantasy elements lies an effective and moving coming-of-age novel.” - Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review

“Bow’s pellucid prose illuminates the contest between humanity and superstition, including the fear of witches that blights innocent lives. An ending sure to bring tears to readers’ eyes concludes this stunning debut fantasy.” - Horn Book

"Despite the talking animal (who nearly steals the show) and graceful writing (Kate carries Taggle around her neck, "draped bonelessly, like a fur collar with glittering eyes"), this is a dark and complex tale, full of violence-knives cut a lot more than wood.... Kate is undeniably a sympathetic character deserving of happiness." - Publishers Weekly

"The vaguely medieval, quasi-Eastern European setting works well, especially with the Roamer elements, but the real strength is the characterization; even cold, often cruel Linay evokes sympathy, and Taggle is a truly remarkable feline, especially as the power of speech renders him oddly human. Don’t be fooled by Plain Kate’s youth: This is full of blood magic and unhappy people doing unpleasant things, but there's lots of heart and redemption, too. A haunting, chilling (but never gory or graphic) tale with a fantastic girl at its center." -Kirkus Reviews

“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.... [W]ith this debut, Bow establishes herself as a novelist to watch.” - Booklist

“Kate is a stalwart, engaging heroine and Bow vividly evokes a soggy countryside of birch trees, babbling rivers and colourful Roamers. Magic here has its share of blood and death, its grief and powerful joy. Very satisfying reading.” - Toronto Star

“[T]he lively presence of Taggle, irrepressible with his feline self-involvement and clever observations, brings elements of fun and friendship to Kate’s journey. The novel will appeal to fans of Karen Cushman, with Kate as a strong, individualistic female protagonist, and those of Vivian Vande Velde, who also plays with the unpredictable wildness of magic.” - VOYA

“[Plain Kate] is gorgeously well written, unafraid of plumbing joy and sorrow, and with a story that you can’t bear to stop reading.” - The Times (London) 

Purchase Options
Indiebound • Scholastic Store • Amazon • Barnes & Noble

Fall 2010
Young Adult Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-545-16664-5
Price: $17.99 / $22.99
Trim Size: 5 1/2" x 8 1/4"
Page Count: 320
Foreign Rights: Folio Literary
Translation Rights: Folio Literary
Rights Available? yes

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