Cover of Plain Kate, with a girl balancing on the top of a roof in an old village with a cat walking in front of her

About the Book

Title: Plain Kate
Published: 2010
Swoonworthy Scale: 1

BFF Charm: Yay!
Swoonworthy Scale: 0
Talky Talk: Brothers Grimm
Bonus Factors: Loyal Pet, Badass Witchcraft
Relationship Status: Imaginary Friend

The Deal:

A note to the butcher in the town of Samilae: you really suck at creating nicknames. Cos on the day you met Kate and proclaimed her to be “plain,” you really should have gone with “tragic.” Because Plain Kate’s life so far has been insanely shiteous. Her sweet and loving father died, leaving her a penniless orphan, and even though she has incredible wood-carving skills, she is prohibited by town law from truly profiting from them. So instead, she lives IN A DRAWER (sorry, Harry, but that’s WAY worse than a closet under the stairs) in the middle of the town marketplace with her cat, Taggle, and tries to avoid accusations of witchcraft. See, the people of Samilae are incredibly superstitious, and when mysterious bad things begin to happen, Plain Kate realizes she needs to get the hell outta dodge (er, her drawer). So, she does what any broke, desperate girl in a fairy tale would do: she sells her shadow to an albino named Linay, who actually is a witch, and then runs off to join a clan of gypsies known as the roamers. Unfortunately for Plain Kate, no one’s been around to teach her the basics in life, like friendship and self-empowerment and, most importantly, “why making deals with witches is ALWAYS A BAD IDEA.” It therefore comes as no surprise that a dark and deadly magic begins to sweep over the countryside, forcing Kate into a desperate quest to undo her bargain with Linay and save not only her shadow, but herself.

Note: In the interest of keeping this review relatively spoiler-free, I have omitted some of the amazing shizz that happens in the first 30 pages. So just know this: OMG AMAZING SHIZZ HAPPENS.

BFF Charm: Yay!

Yay BFF Charm

Plain Kate, you need a friend more than any other YA character in my (admittedly poor) memory. Not only need, but DESERVE. You’re fiercely loyal and good-hearted, and years of poverty and sadness have refined your spirit into a surprisingly resilient force. You’re basically like the Lisbeth of the fairy tale world, and I want nothing more than to help you find happiness and peace. But, like Ms. Salander, you don’t really need my help, which makes me admire you even more. I still think you could use some girlie time, though. Nothing too frivolous, of course, but maybe i could mix up a few cocktails while you carve something cute, like cupcakes? OMG WE COULD START OUR OWN ETSY STORE.

Also, let’s nix this “plain” business. From now on, I’m calling you AWESOME Kate.

Swoonworthy Scale: 0

HOLD UP. Before that fat ole zero stops you from reading the rest of the review, hear me out. It’s true that there is no romance in this book. HOWEVER. Erin Bow has managed to do the impossible: she’s written a book that is utterly compelling and completely engrossing, and she’s done it without any kissing whatsoever. HIGH FIVE ERIN BOW. Y’all, I was so mesmerized by the story, I didn’t even miss the swoon. And no, that is not the crazy pills talking. Read it, and I guarantee you’ll feel the same way (then I’ll get to say TOLDJA SO).

Talky Talk: Brothers Grimm

Beginning with “a long time ago,” this book plucked me away from reality and into a medieval world of gypsies, sorcery, and superstitious culture. Without going completely Tolkien, Erin Bow has masterfully created her own universe, colored with fantastical characters and peppered with rich words like skara rok (a year of bad weather, hunger and plague) and rusalka (the ghost of a woman murdered by drowning). Even better, these imaginings are merely the backdrop to Plain Kate, and her emotional and physical journey keeps the plot moving at a tantalizing pace. Bow follows in the steps of the Brothers Grimm and uses her fantasy world to support the story, instead of the other way around. And, like the bros, she’s not afraid to venture into some v. v. dark and scary places.

Bonus Factor: Loyal Pet

A brown and white cat with a very grumpy expression

Y’all, I am not a cat person. With that said, I LOVE TAGGLE SO MUCH IT PAINS ME PHYSICALLY. As much as I rooted for Plain Kate, it was always Taggle that had my heart. He’s persnickety and wildly egotistical, but in spite of that (or actually, because of that), he’s the best literary cat I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. TAGGLE C’MERE AND LET ME SNUGGLE YOU. I’ll even throw in some catnip, because the only thing better than a Taggle is a drunk Taggle.

Bonus Factor: Badass Witchcraft

The four teenage witches from The Craft

In spite of the fact that I chose a photo from The Craft because I can’t help myself, the witches in this book ain’t your typical Hot Topic emo wiccan types. Linay especially is NOT someone you want to mess with, because the dude means SERIOUS BIZNESS. His sorcery isn’t like some wart of toad bullshizz, it’s all about BLOOD BABY, and the consequences of his spells scared the PANTS OUTTA ME. If this book could be considered a fable, the moral would be: KIDS, DON’T TALK TO WITCHES.

Relationship Status: Imaginary Friend

While I love my real life friends, there’s something incredibly wonderful about escaping into a world of make believe, a place full of marvelous wonders and dangerous quests. When I’m with this book, we exchange the mundane for magic as we whisper in a secret language and dream of distant lands. Some people might think I’m crazy, but this book inspires me in a way that no ordinary friend could, and its presence, though ethereal, has made a permanent impact on my soul.

P.S. Note the DNRIP tag on this review. if you don’t enjoy sobbing in front of strangers, TAKE HEED.

FTC Full Disclosure: My review copy was a free book I received from a signing booth at the Book Expo. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!).

Sarah lives in Austin, and believes there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, which is part of why she started FYA in 2009. Growing up, she thought she was a Mary Anne, but she's finally starting to accept the fact that she's actually a Kristy.