Title: White Cat (Curse Workers #1)
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Buy The Book: Amazon
Cassel comes from a family of curse workers — people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they’re all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn’t got the magic touch, so he’s an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail — he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.
Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He’s noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he’s part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen. (Summary provided by Margaret K. McElderry.)
If you follow me on Twitter -and if you don’t, you totally should- then you know by now that I am very excited about the Smart Chicks Kick It tour stop in Jackson, MS. Guess what? It’s happening tomorrow!!! *punches self in face. runs around room going nuts.* Anyway, I am really looking forward to meeting some of my favorite authors of all time in person, and I thought it would be fun to post a review of a book by one of the authors on my blog prior to the event. I plan to spotlight each of the authors on the Jackson stop of the tour over the next month or two.
I read White Cat by Holly Black* in two sittings. It is wonderful. Really. Let me write that one more time: It. Is. Wonderful. I don’t use those words lightly. What exactly made this book so wonderful? For starters, White Cat has the elusive male POV. Not only is it a male POV, but it’s a believable male POV. Cassel is complex: He’s a good guy. He’s a bad guy. He wishes he were a curse worker. He’s scared by the thought of possessing true powers. He thinks he killed his friend Lila. He can’t remember killing Lila. He’s a mess. A hot mess. A nicely complicated hot mess that I enjoyed trying to figure out.
Powerful imagery lurks around White Cat ready to leap out at the reader from the darkest of corners. Take this passage for example:
I jump up onto one of the chairs, snatching a candlestick, not sure what sick thing my brain is about to conjure next when a small, veiled creature walks into the room. It’s wearing a tiny gown, like the kind that expensive dolls wear. Lila had a whole roll of dolls in dresses like that; her mother would yell at her if she touched them. (page 58)
The above passage occurs in a dream sequence involving Cassel. Within the context of the story it gave me chills.
As a world builder, Black cannot be beat. She has created a world full of suspicion. People are scared to be touched by ungloved hands. Scared everyone they come into contact with is a curse worker waiting to “work them.” A world where something called Prop 2 threatens to force curse workers to expose themselves to the world whether they want to or not. A world where laborers (minor crime bosses) receive something very creepy called a necklace of keloids. Holly Black has created a world that is both modern and reminiscent of old gangster films. She’s good y’all.
In the middle of all this darkness, Cassel is still dealing with problems faced by every teen. His girlfriend Audrey just broke up with him. He’s struggling to find a group of friends he can trust. He is also dealing with sibling rivalry. Although, it’s definitely not a typical sibling rivalry situation. This normalcy in the midst of chaos makes the book a believable mix capable of keeping readers enthralled until the final page.
With the exception of all the drugging and mind f*ckery that occurred during the family dinners at Cassel’s brother Phillip’s house, it kind of reminded me of my own family dinners as a kid with my family gathered around one not so magnificent table. We were always together-like it or not-because that’s what family does. I wish there would have been a Holly Black equivalent back when I was a teenager, because her books would have been comforting. Her books are often character studies of the teens most unlikely to fit in or succeed. And while Black presents them in fantastical situations as faeries or curse workers, the message is still important. Teens need to know that not everyone has a nice house and a problem free life. That the hand a person is dealt in life ultimately does not decide a person’s future. White Cat ends with Cassel at a crossroads of sorts. I absolutely cannot wait for the sequel, Red Glove. I have faith Cassel will make all the right decisions whatever they may be.
*If you haven’t visited Holly’s website already, you should. Her blog is wonderful, and she also generously posts links to many of her folklore resources.