by Erin Bow
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010
$19.99 (hc), 314 pp, ages 12+
Plain Kate, so named by the people in her village, lived in a time and a place in which people believed in magic and witches were feared and burned. She was raised by her father because her mother died in childbirth. Kate’s father was a wood-carver and gave Kate a carving knife at a young age. Her skill with a knife and her mis-matched eyes made people look at her sideways and crook their fingers at her as protection against witchcraft. Though Kate and her father were poor, they were busy because everyone in the country wore a carved wooden talisman. Before Kate was of an age to apprentice as a carver with the guild, her father died from a sickness called witch’s fever that killed many. Because they feared her, no other master carver would take Kate as an apprentice, and she was thrown out of the guild house in which she and her father had lived. She moved a few belongings to her father’s market stall in the town square and continued in an uneasy existence there, carving during the day, and sleeping in a drawer at the bottom of the stall at night.
This beautifully told tale of Plain Kate’s desperate bargain with a witch to escape sure death at the hands of the townspeople is full of mystery and magic, great danger and swirling fog. But there are friends for Kate too—a beloved cat and roamers who also live outside common society—and after many adventures, Kate finds a place to belong, and lives “not always without trouble, but happily, and well, and for a long time thereafter.”
This review is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s September 2010 issue.