Plain Kate

Plain Kate

by Erin Bow


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780545166645
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 09/01/2010
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)
Lexile: 630L (what's this?)
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

Erin Bow was born in the Midwest and studied particle physics in college, eventually working at the CERN laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland. She then decided to leave science in order to concentrate on her love of writing. She lives in Kitchener, Ontario, with her husband James and their two daughters. Erin Bow can be visited online at

Read an Excerpt

Plain Kate

By Erin Bow

Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Erin Bow
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-545-16664-5

Chapter One

The skara rok

A long time ago, in a market town by a looping river, there lived an orphan girl called Plain Kate.

She was called this because her father had introduced her to the new butcher, saying: "This is my beloved Katerina Svetlana, after her mother who died birthing her and God rest her soul, but I call her just plain Kate." And the butcher, swinging a cleaver, answered: "That's right enough, Plain Kate she is, plain as a stick." A man who treasured humor, especially his own, the butcher repeated this to everyone. After that, she was called Plain Kate. But her father called her Kate, My Star.

Plain Kate's father Piotr was a wood-carver. He gave Kate a carving knife before most children might be given a spoon. She could whittle before she could walk. When she was still a child, she could carve a rose that strangers would stop to smell, a dragonfly that trout would rise to strike.

In Kate's little town of Samilae, people thought that there was magic in a knife. A person who could wield a knife well was, in their eyes, halfway to a witch. So Plain Kate was very small the first time someone spat at her and crooked their fingers.

Her father sat her down and spoke to her with great seriousness. "You are not a witch, Katerina. There is magic in the world, and some of it is wholesome, and some of it is not, but it is a thing that is in the blood, and it is not in yours.

"The foolish will always treat you badly, because they think you are not beautiful," he said, and she knew this was true. Plain Kate: She was plain as a stick, and thin as a stick, and flat as a stick. She had one eye the color of river mud and one eye the color of the river. Her nose was too long and her brows were too strong. Her father kissed her twice, once above each eyebrow. "We cannot help what fools think. But understand, it is your skill with a blade that draws this talk. If you want to give up your carving, you have my blessing."

"I will never give it up," she answered.

And he laughed and called her his Brave Star, and taught her to carve even better.

They were busy. Everyone in that country, no matter how poor, wore a talisman called an objarka. Those who could, hung larger objarkas on horse stalls and doorposts and above their marriage beds. No lintel was uncarved in that place; walls bore saints in niches; and roads were marked with little shrines on posts, which housed sometimes saints, and sometimes older, stranger things. Plain Kate's father was even given the honor of replacing Samilae's weizi, the great column at the center of the market that showed the town's angels and coats of arms, and at the top, supported the carved wooden roof that sheltered the carved wooden gods. The new weizi was such a good work that the guild masters sent a man from Lov to see it. The man made Kate's father a full master on the spot.

"My daughter did some of the angels," he told the man, gathering Kate up and pulling her forward.

The man looked up at the faces that were so beautiful they seemed sad, the wings that looked both soft and strong, like the wings of swans that could kill a man with one blow. "Apprentice her," he said.

"If she likes," Piotr answered. "And when she is of age."

When the guild man went away, Plain Kate chided her father. "You know I will be your apprentice!"

"You are the star of my heart," he said. "But it is two years yet before you are of prenticing age. Anything might happen."

She laughed at him. "What will happen is that I will be a full master by the time I am twenty."

But what happened was that her father died.

* * *

It happened like this: The spring swung round into summer, full of heat and flies. The wheat crop withered. The first frosts came and found food already short. And then a sickness called witch's fever ate through the town.

At first Plain Kate and her father were too busy to worry. People wanted new objarka—some wore so many of the carved charms that they clacked softly when they moved. They carved all day, and into the night by the bad light of tallow lamps. They carved faster than they could cure the wood. And then they grew even busier, because there were grave markers to make.

Witch's fever was an ugly thing. The sick tossed in their beds, burning up, sobbing about the devils that were pulling their joints apart. They raved of horrors and pointed into shadows, crying, "Witch, witch." And then they died, all but a few. It seemed to Plain Kate that even those who were not sick were looking into shadows. The cressets in the market square—the iron nests of fire where people gathered to trade news and roast fish—became a place of hisses and silences. More fingers crooked at her than ever before.

But in the end it was not her the town pointed to. One day, when Plain Kate and her father were in the market square selling new objarka from their sturdy stall, a woman was dragged in screaming. Kate looked up from her whittling, and saw—suddenly—that there was wood for a bonfire piled around the weizi.

The screaming woman was named Vera, and Plain Kate knew her: a charcoal burner, a poor woman with no family, with a lisp from a twisted lip. The crowd dragged Vera to the woodpile, and Piotr picked Plain Kate up and swept her away, though she was too big for it. From their shop they could still hear the screaming. The next day the square was muted and scattered with ash.

And still the sickness ate through the crooked lanes and wooden archways. Plain Kate and her father stopped selling in the square. Their money grew short. The plague burned on and the town shut its gates. Carters stopped bringing food from the countryside; the barges stopped coming down the looping Narwe. Kate had her first taste of hunger.

But slowly the dewy frost gave way to brilliant, hard mornings, and the fever, as fevers do, began to loosen its grip for the winter. Plain Kate went down to the market to see what food could be had, and found little knots of people around stalls heaped with the last of the fresh harvest: winter-fat leeks and frost-tattered cabbages. The frowning shops that fronted the square seemed to sigh and spread their shoulders.

Plain Kate came home with her basket piled with apples, and found her father slumped at his workbench. He'd left the lathe whirling; a long hiss, winding down in the clotting silence of the shop. She could hear the shudder in his breath.

Somehow she got him up on her shoulder. It made her feel tiny, smaller than she had in years; he was so heavy and she could hardly hold him up. She took him to his bed.

Not everyone who got witch's fever died. She kept telling herself that. She tried to give him water, she tried to make him eat. She was not sure if he should be kept warm or cold. She tucked his red quilt over him and put a cold cloth on his forehead. Like the others, he sobbed and he saw things. She talked to him day and night until she grew so hoarse that her mouth tasted of blood. "You are here, you are here, I am with you, stay where you belong." She stayed awake, day and night, saying it.

After two days and three nights, somewhere in the gray hour before dawn, she fell asleep. She woke still sitting on the chair by the bedside, her forehead resting on her father's hand.

"Katerina," he rasped.

"You're here," she stuttered, lifting her head. "I am here, Father, right here."

"Not you," he said, breaking her heart. "Your mother." There was a screen in the shape of climbing roses between their room and the front of the shop. Light was piercing through it, the long slanting yellow of dawn. Her father was staring into it, his eyes runny and blind. "Look."

Plain Kate turned for a moment to look, then turned back, afraid of what she might see if she let herself. "Father," she said. "Papa."

"Katerina," he said again. "She is in the light. She's here. Katerina, you're here!"

"Don't go," said Plain Kate, and clutched his hand to her cheek. "Papa!"

He looked at her. "Katerina, Star of My Heart." He breathed in. He breathed out. And he stopped breathing.

"I'm right here," she said. "Papa, I'm right here." She kept saying it for a long time.

* * *

The year of the hot summer, sickness, and starvation came to be called the skara rok, the bad time. It had emptied their purse. Plain Kate took what money they had left and bought Piotr Carver a decent burial. Then she went back to the shop and spent a month carving a grave marker for him. She would make one and cast it into the fire, make another and still not find peace.

"People think we are witches because we show them the truth." She could see her father's face, feel his hands on hers. A carving had just snapped apart when her knife found some hidden flaw in the wood. "You will learn to know where the knots are and how the grain flows, even deep inside the wood where no one can see it. You will show people that truth: the truth in the wood. But sometimes, in your carving, people will see another truth. A truth about you. About themselves." His hands were warm on hers, sturdy as his smile. "And that is magic," he said. "You will know it when you feel it."

She wanted the grave marker to show the truth: that Piotr Carver had been a wonderful carver, and she had loved him. But the only thing it said was that her father was dead.

But at last she could not leave the grave unmarked anymore. So she finished the marker, and placed it.

And when that was done she had nothing more to do. She stood by his lathe like a girl under a spell. Her hands hung empty at her sides.

And then the wood guild sent another carver to take the shop.

His name was Chuny and he wasn't half the carver she was, but he had a warrant from the guild. Plain Kate had nowhere to go. She'd been born in that shop. She'd been a baby watching the light shift through the rose screen. She'd been a chubby-fisted toddler putting wood shavings in the pottage. But now the guild warrant gave Chuny claim over the shop and its fittings, its tools, even the wood Kate and her father had cured but not carved.

Master Chuny stood watching her pack. There was very little she was allowed to take. A bit of food: apples and oats, a jar of oil. Her own three dresses. Her father's smocks and leggings. His leather carpenter's apron. There were two bowls, with porridge dried like parched earth at the bottom of the one that had been her father's. Two spoons. The red marriage quilt from the big carved bed, which smelled like her father and like sickness. Her own small hand tools: knives and chisels and awls and gouges.

"The carving things stay with the shop," said Chuny, still watching.

Plain Kate was slotting the tools into the pockets of her own leather apron. "He gave them to me," she whispered. She did not look up; the hair around her face hid her strange eyes and the tears in them from the man watching her. She raised her voice: "These are mine. My father gave them to me."

"An apprentice's tools—" Chuny began. The rule was that an apprentice's tools belonged to his master, and through the master to the guild.

"I was not his apprentice." She looked up and she was not crying anymore. "I am going. Do you want to search my bags?"

"I—" Chuny began, then shook his head. His fingers were twined in the rose screen; it hurt her to see his hands there. Kate and her father had had an old joke where they would smell the carved roses, but even outside of the joke Piotr would never have closed his hands round a blossom, as Chuny was doing now.

She tore her eyes away. "I am going to the market," she said. "I am going to live in our stall."

"Live in it?" he echoed, shocked.

"The bottom drawer will be big enough."

The stall too belonged to the guild. Plain Kate raised her witch's eyes, daring Chuny to make that claim. He looked back, then looked at his shoes, and didn't. Kate picked up her bags.

"They, uh," he said, "tell me you can carve a little. I would—when you are of age, that is, if I still need an apprentice—"

She was insulted by the awkward half kindness. "You have nothing to teach me," she said. "And I don't have the fee."

"Go, then," he said, angry.

So she did, with her head held high.

* * *

In the market, she put down her bags and looked at the square with new eyes. The tall and narrow shops seemed leering to her, the streets crooked. Underfoot, cobble-backs rose like islands from the packed and dirty snow. Above it all the weizi towered, sending a long sunset shadow across the gray roofs of Samilae and toward the black wall of the hills beyond.

Her father's stall was sitting in that shadow: a big box cabinet with many drawers, large and deep on the bottom and little on top. The front was carved to show a deer hunt: a stag leaping into a patch of wood, hounds and riders at its heels. Plain Kate had always thought before that it looked as if the stag was going to get away. Tonight it looked different; one of the riders had nocked an arrow, his aim true. The poor beast was dead and just didn't know it.

The cold grew bitter as the sun fell; her breath swirled around her. She pulled open the big bottom drawer. She put the quilt in it, and pushed it as much closed as she could and still get in. Then she rolled in through the gap and lay down.

The wood was hard despite the quilt; the air was stale. She couldn't see, but the drawer walls pressed her shoulders, the sense of the wood above pressed her from inches away. A coffin, she thought, and pushed the thought away. It came back. This is my coffin.

With no standing in the wood guild, she could carve but she couldn't sell, not without telling all who asked that there was a guild shop not a hundred steps away. An apprentice's fee was the price of a matched team of horses, a fortune she couldn't imagine earning. A dowry was beside the point for a skinny girl with witch's eyes. She was going to starve. It was just a matter of time.

But she wasn't hungry yet. She lay still and listened. The drawer grew brighter as her eyes grew used to darkness, then darker as the world darkened. Finally she couldn't see anything. As the night grew still each sound got sharper, and each sounded like it was coming for her. Boots. The bark of a dog. Like a knife through the darkness, the bell of a watchman, calling the hour.

The night grew quieter and quieter. Her eyes ached from seeing nothing. Her ears strained after little sounds. She heard the river singing to itself. She heard the wind snuffling at the gap where she'd entered the drawer. And finally, littler than any of those things, she heard something crying.

The small cry came from somewhere close. Plain Kate's first thought was that it was a ghost, that its next whisper would be "Katerina, Star of My Heart." But she was not the sort for ghosts, so she lay listening, afraid but brave. She moved her head from side to side to track the sound, and decided that the crying was coming from one of the drawers above.

So she climbed out of the drawer and looked.

In the smallest drawer of her father's stall, among the lace-fine carvings packed in straw, she found them: kittens. They were mouse-little, with their eyes still sealed closed and their ears tucked flat. There was no cat. It was almost dawn and frost furred everything. The market square was as still as the inside of a bell after the ringing has stopped. The straw nest was getting cold.

Plain Kate stood for a while and watched the kittens stagger about. Then she scooped them up and squeezed herself back into the drawer.

And that was the beginning of her new life.

There were three kittens: a white cat, a black cat, and a gangly gray tom. Their mother never came back. The next morning Plain Kate traded the cowherd girl the mending of a milk stool for a squirt of milk, and the promise of more each morning. She watered the milk and let the kittens suck on the twisted end of a rag. She kept them in the felt-lined pockets of her leather apron, under her coat during the day, and beside her at night in the warm, closed darkness of the drawer. Day by day, their dark eyes opened and their ears untucked and their voices grew louder.

She was patient with them, and took care of them every moment, and against all odds all three lived. The black cat grew wild and fearless and went to live on one of the pole barges that plied the shallow, twisting Narwe River. The white cat grew crafty and fat, and went to live on mice and milk with the cowherd girl. The gray tom grew long and narrow, and stayed with Plain Kate.


Excerpted from Plain Kate by Erin Bow Copyright © 2010 by Erin Bow. Excerpted by permission of Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Plain Kate 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 51 reviews.
David Payunk More than 1 year ago
I love this book. It was sad, but very good. For some reason, Linay was my absolute, FAVORITE character. Go Linay!!!
LayOffTheBooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After hearing that Plain Kate by Erin Bow had won the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award, I decided to pick it up. I had been hearing bits and pieces about this book for awhile, and I love supporting Canadian authors so that was enough of a push for me to head to my local library and pick up a copy.I can certainly see why Bow's writing impressed the judges. Erin Bow tells the story of Plain Kate, the carver's daughter in a beautiful and melancholic tone. Plain Kate's mother died when she was born and is being raised by her father, who teaches her wood carving. When life in their little town begins going badly and Kate becomes an orphan she makes a deal with a mystical stranger that will greatly impact her life.Without spoiling too much of the plot, I will say that there is a talking cat in this book. I know, I can hear you saying "How annoying!". I am the first person to dislike talking animals in books or movies, although if it happened in real life I'd probably be pretty thrilled. Erin Bow may have made a deal with a witch, or perhaps is just really talented, because the talking cat is not only not annoying but is truly impressive. He actually talks the way you might imagine a real cat to talk- aloof, slightly sarcastic and incredibly narcissistic. He was definitely my favourite character.Now is the part where you think I'd say "I give it a 10/10 and recommend it to everyone!". Sadly, not so much. The book was wonderful, awesome, well written- up to page 287. That is the page where the entire book basically falls apart- the characters suddenly go against how they've been acting throughout the entire book, the plot is unbelievable ( and not just in a fantasy book sort of way) and it just dissolves. It's as if there was a sudden change to a deadline and it had to be quickly finished, or Bow suddenly got tired of writing the book, thought " Forget this" and hastily finished it.Overall, I was really disappointed in this book. I feel like I invested my time in reading this book because I thought it was a great story, only to get the bait-and-switch and have a ill-written ending. It's like picking out expensive, high quality ingredients to make a cake, spending all that time shopping and baking and decorating it only to have the cake turn out absolutely tasteless. If you are someone who likes consistent quality throughout a book, or someone who feels disappointed if the ending is poorly done then I wouldn't recommend it.
bookwormygirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The town of Samilae is one where its superstitious town folk believe in curses and stories of witchcraft. Katerina Svetlana was nicknamed Plain Kate by the town baker, and the nickname stuck. She spends her days with her father learning how to carve wood and creating talismans for customers who want to ward off evil from their homes or even for good luck. But when a deadly illness sweeps the town, Kate, not only loses her father, but she loses her home. Her neighbors who have always thought she was a witch because she knew how to wield a knife are even more suspicious after the illness kills many. With only her cat Taggle for company, she sets off on her own, but when food is scarce, the weather is harsh and loneliness leaves her feeling bitter, she finds herself striking a bargain with a stranger that will change her life forever. She trades her shadow for her heart's one desire. But we all know, nothing is ever that simple.I was fascinated by the beautiful storytelling I found in Plain Kate.Russian folklore seems to be the base of this story - but Plain Kate's adventure is one that I found to be original, dark and utterly captivating. I truly liked Kate. She's a wonderful heroine - she makes mistakes, struggles with the choices she makes, yet is always brave and strong. But I must say, Plain Kate's cat and sidekick, Taggle, well he stole the show. Some of the best moments revolved around Taggle.What great characters and stunning descriptions of the town and its residents as well as those that Plain Kate encounters along her journey. The writing was simple yet lyrical in nature. It is told in a way that makes it feel charming a quaint. This story has such fairytale feel to it. You feel as if the narrator is reading a story to you - one that, although at first glance feels like a coming-of-age story, ends up being so much more.One more thing that I found unique, was that Plain Kate did not have a love interest. I enjoyed that she was not pining over a boy, or the very popular love triangle, nor were there any vampires or werewolves. She was just a girl trying to live her life as best she could. The story had its ups and downs but nothing where you felt it dragged. As for the ending, it was bittersweet and heart-breaking but at the same time, it was perfect.No matter the age, if you love fairytales, fantasy and just good, old fashioned adventure, Plain Kate is the book for you.
foggidawn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Orphaned, alone, and suspected of witchcraft, Kate the carver makes a deal with a mysterious stranger: her shadow for the supplies she will need to survive on the road. With only her talking cat Taggle for company, Kate sets out to make her way in the world. After falling in with a band of Roamers, traveling horse-traders, Kate discovers what use the stranger might have for her shadow, and realizes that she must get it back -- at all costs. In this dark, haunting fantasy, Erin Bow creates a new folklore with an old-world feel. The characters are an intriguing mix, none entirely good or entirely evil (though it must be said that Taggle is entirely cat). This is a thought-provoking read that will stay with readers long after they turn the final page.
booksandwine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Aside from the whole Stalin thing, Eastern Europe is awesome. From Eastern Europe we get nesting eggs, czars, Anastasia, and Baba Yaga. Upon opening Plain Kate by Erin Bow, I was transported to the old country. Of course my brain went to my most pressing impression of Eastern Europe, "If I were a rich man,Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum." You may mock, but Fiddler on the Roof is awesome. Unfortunately, Rev Tevye does not make an appearance in Plain Kate, but that does not matter since this book just drips win.There aren't a lot of books on the market like Plain Kate, and while this makes me semi-sad, it also makes me more inclined to stand on my rooftop proclaiming my love for this book. Plain Kate is a carver, the daughter of Piotr, who calls Plain Kate, Katerina Star of My Heart. Things are going just swimmingly for the pair, minus the ignorant villagers who think Plain Kate's carving skills makes her a witch. Well, we all know this cannot last, so Plain Kate's father up and dies. Rudeness abounds, and Plain Kate is forced to live on the streets. Full of despair, she strikes a magical bargain with a male witch named Linay. Linay is pretty much a nutcase. Right-o. So Linay steals Kate's shadow, Kate gets some supplies to live in the wilderness. Oh, and what's that! Oh yeah, a talking cat. AWESOME. Sorry guys, but when animals talk I am sold. Anything that evokes the win that comprises Redwall and you can bet I will be plunking down my time on that.Plain Kate then goes on an adventure wrought with peril and new friends along the way. I just am going to put this out there right now. She comes across these people called Roamers, which of course are modeled after the Roma. Erin Bow, you rock for not using the term gypsy which as well all know is pejorative. I was actually struck by this and quite pleased. While I am in gush mode, let me continue on about Plain Kate. I keep calling her Plain Kate instead of Kate, because that is what she prefers to be called. Her moniker isn't an exaggeration, as Plain Kate really is plain. She's not a beauty and doesn't become a beauty. However, she has cleverness in spades. Can I just say that I love how this story says you can be a heroine and not be hot. I feel I read a ton of stories where the heroine is pretty much a babe, and smart, and fierce. I mean, that is awesome, hot people can do great things. It's just nice though, that Plain Kate isn't one of those, yet she is still shown to have value. I like that her self worth isn't tied up in her looks. It is a nice lesson to have. ALSO, there are no love triangles or romantic entanglements in this book. It is exactly as promised, a book about an orphan girl facing what seems to be impossible odds. Y'all I gobbled this up. And to be honest, I was not even going to grab this one at BEA, until I heard Erin Bow at a panel mentioning Ursula K. LeGuinn, so of freaking course I had to go wait in line for this book. I am so glad I did. This is another book which ultimately make my top twenty of the year.A few quotes from Plain Kate that made my heart pitter patter in joy:"The knife may slip. It may follow a grain and spoil the line. There may be a flaw deep in the wood that will snap your work in two. You will want to leave the tail thick and crude; that is safer. A master carver will be brave, and trust the wood. Things will find their shape. Kate, My Star. Lift your knife." pg. 185 - ARC version"Give me another reason," Taggle said, flicking his ears. "Give me a cat's reason. Keep in mind that we do not," he harrumphed, "run into burning buildings going 'bark, bark.'" -pg. 256 ARC version.I sort of get a kick out of cats making fun of dogs, and the whole bark bark thing makes me snort with laughter
krau0098 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I got an advanced reading copy of this book through the Amazon Vine Program. I had heard great things about this book and it sounded like a wonderful fairytale-like premise. It was a great book. It starts out a little slow but ends up being a finely crafted and engaging story.Plain Kate is raised by her dad who is a woodcarver, from a very young age Kate practices carving and is set to become her dad's apprentice. Then a sickness rages through the village and her father dies. With everything her family owned going to the new carver from the Guild, Kate is left to fend on her own. She is a very good carver; so despite displacement from the guild she manages to eke out a living in the village with her only companionship being her cat, Taggle. Then one day a man, Linay, shows up. He wants Kate to do some carving for him and he wants her shadow. He forces events so that Kate is driven out of her village and accused of being a witch; he trades her shadow for her heart's desire. Kate ends up fleeing with her now talking cat Taggle. Kate must struggle to survive and on top of that she finds that Linay may be out to do great evil with her shadow; it is up to her to stop him.I will admit when I first started reading this book I found it to be a bit...well plain and boring. It is written in a very un-embellished style and written about a very plain girl. The style of the story is a cross between being folkish and fairy tale-like. When you start it you are kind of wondering what the point is and why we are following Plain Kate around as she ekes out a living in her village or makes a living among the Roamers (a gypsy-like people).Towards the middle though, Kate is forced to make some tough decisions and fight through some dire situations and things get a lot more interesting. As the story continues many of the seemingly random elements from the beginning come together to form a very cohesive and engaging story of death, betrayal, and sacrifices. There is some violence in the form of witch hunts and people being burned alive.Parts of the story are especially touching. The companionship Kate enjoys with her talking cat Taggle is cute, funny, and heartwarming. The sacrifices Kate and Taggle are forced to make to stop great evil are heartbreaking and had me in tears. As I progressed through the novel I found my reaction of cool indifference to the first half of the book transforming into an absolute love of these characters and admiration for how well put together this story was.This story is written in more of a folk tale or fairy tale kind of way. The words are simple, the description is minimal, and Kate herself is not a complex character. There are fairly clear distinctions between good and evil; but even, Linay, as the villain of the story has a history that makes you sympathize with him some. By the time I got to the end of this book I realized that these seemingly simple characters had more complexity to them than I initially gave credit for.Overall, I ended up loving this story and it is a keeper for me. The fairy tale like cast to it all, the Russian folklore included, and the companionship that develops between Kate and Taggle make it something special. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I highly recommend to people who love the darker fairy tales and stories about plain girls overcoming great odds. It is appropriate for all ages, although it does address burning people alive as witches, so that may be too scary for younger kids. I loved this story and Erin Bow is definitely on my list as an author to watch.
stephxsu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Plain Kate¿s life is forever changed when her carver father dies and she is left to her own resources. Plain Kate survives by carving pieces of wood into charms, but people are still wary of her tremendous carving skill. Rumors of her being a witch increase when a stranger by the name of Linay starts to pay attention to her. Running out of options, Plain Kate makes a deal with Linay: she will give him her shadow in exchange for provisions to leave her increasingly unfriendly town.Armed with her carving knife, meager possessions, and a wry talking cat, Plain Kate joins up with a group of Roamers and tries to leave her past behind. However, magical troubles keep on following her and hurting those she cares about, and Plain Kate begins to realize that giving up her shadow, she may have gotten herself with magic much darker than anything she wanted¿I am possibly the furthest from objectivity in reviewing this book, because epic, magically written fantasy adventure novels sweep me off my feet each and every time, leaving me drowning in my own puddle of envious, awed, and enraptured drool. PLAIN KATE channels the good old-fashioned writing of fantasy queens such as Robin McKinley to conjure up an astonishing world that flavorfully blends together folklore and magic, both in content and writing style. Truth be told, I would¿ve read this book solely for its language. Reading Erin Bow¿s words is like reading a generations-old fairy tale, passed down from parent to child again and again. The book has a poetic soul at heart, and without the language, I¿m pretty sure the magic of this story wouldn¿t have been the same. I fell in love with the writing from the first page, and savored each paragraph of PLAIN KATE like I would decadent, heartwarming chocolate.The plot doesn¿t quite have the epicness that I adore in beautifully written fantasy adventures, but is enjoyable nonetheless. Like her name, Plain Kate is a no-nonsense girl: here is someone who has had to deal with loss and prejudice her whole life, and thus she doesn¿t have time to waste on ambiguous hormonal teenage issues, which is almost refreshing in a YA book. Taggle, Plain Kate¿s cat, adds much-needed humor breaks throughout the book, with his wry cat comments that anyone who has come in contact with cats before can most certainly relate to.The story moves slowly, even as the characters travel far, preferring instead to spend time on the language rather than on specific physical action. The parts containing Linay and his sinister plans are a bit confusing¿again, probably because I was, uh, too spellbound by the writing to get a solid hold on the story¿s main magical conflict.Despite that, I would read this book again and again, if only to savor Erin Bow¿s words when I need a touch of beauty in my life. If you, like me, like falling under the spell of beautiful fantasy writing, then PLAIN KATE is a must-read. Kate¿s story will make you fall in love with this genre all over again.
twonickels on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When Arthur Levine raves about a book and makes comparisons to one of his previous acquisitions, The Golden Compass, I stand up and listen. And this fantasy did remind me of Pullman¿s masterpiece in some ways ¿ both authors show respect for their young readers by telling stories that are sometimes dark and always complex, without ever writing down. And this is genuinely dark ¿ much more than I expected it to be. Russian folklore provides a rich base for Bow¿s story, and her characters are wonderful. This is one to watch for.
BookRatMisty on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"...hope will break the heart better than any sorrow..."Plain Kate is the type of book I wish I could have read when I was younger. As much as I loved Kate and her world now, I think it would have absolutely worked its way into me when I was a kid. At the same time, though, there's so much to the story that I appreciate as an adult that maybe would have gone unnoticed as a child.I love a good outsider story, and this one does it really well. Kate, of course, is an outsider, barely eking an existence out of her carvings, waiting for the day the world will turn on her. But she's not the only outsider in the story, by a long shot. Plain Kate is peopled with those who never quite fit in, or cannot fit in, who live on the edges and deal with their pain and Otherness alone. As a kid, I would have just seen that Plain Kate found some other outsiders to share her outsiderness with, but as an adult, I have to praise Bow for subtle injections of reality, even when reality isn't so pretty. I especially appreciated this when it came to Plain Kate's relationship with Linay.Linay is the villain of the piece, sure. Or, I suppose Linay is a villain of the piece, because really, there are plenty of people not shown at their best, especially in the cities. But Linay is the central Big Bad -- he's got possession of Kate's shadow, and he intends to use it to do some very bad things. But this is where it gets interesting, and where I began to respect Bow as a storyteller. Where most people would leave it at that -- Linay = villain, 'nuff said -- Bow weaves together this relationship between Linay, who is hurting and alone, and Kate, who is hurting and alone. As much as they both know that each wants to undo the plots of the other, they worry about each other and care in this weird, sometimes sweet, almost unhealthy, occasionally heart-breaking, utterly human way*. There's so much gray area in the relationship to connect to and explore on your own, and I absolutely love that. It's one of the most interesting and subtly complex relationships I've read in a book for this age group in awhile.But beyond impressing me in that regard, Plain Kate is a just-plain-fun read. I loved the characters -- Taggle, especially -- and the adventure. It's essentially a race against time, so there's that fantastic edge-of-your-seatness which makes it fun to read. There's also great world set up, and I liked exploring it with/through Kate. Bow took a culture (or, a couple of them, I guess) that are familiar enough to fall into, but distant enough to be intriguing, and she added her own spin. The only thing that knocked this back from near-perfect was the ending. Don't get me wrong, and don't let this hold you back from reading it, but I wasn't as happy with the end as I was with the rest of the book. And it's not necessarily what happens, either (though I was frowny-face at times); it's more that there was a sparkle and power to the rest of the book that I felt was a little lacking at the end. It was still good, but it -- hmm, there was a slight disconnect, if that makes sense.But all in all, a definite fun, fast read with characters you'll remember. I would especially recommend this to teachers for their classrooms, as I think a lot of school kids could get a lot of enjoyment out of this.*I'm sorry, that was a really long sentence. But I meant all of it.
TheLostEntwife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The amount of love for this book in the book blogging community is huge. I keep seeing the name popping up and finally made the decision to cave and put it first and foremost in my pile of books - so I happily skipped off to the library and picked it up.I shouldn't have waited - seriously, this is a book to own. I cannot wait for my niece to get a bit older because this will be one of those books I'll be anxiously waiting to put into her hand.Filled with interesting lore, magic and a heroine who proves you don't have to be beautiful or fall in love to be interesting, Plain Kate had me spellbound from the first page. There's villains who still inspire sympathy, there are actions which cause conflicting emotions in the reader, and then there's Kate.Kate (who insists on being called Plain Kate) is a big of a ragamuffin who is a very talented carver. Little bits of Russian lore are woven into the story and provide the setting and history to make this a book rich with information for the young reader. As I read it, I was reminded a bit of how Neil Gaiman's Odd and the Frost Giants affected me - it filled me with wonder, made me feel young again and left me with a touch of regret as I closed the book, having finished it.Plain Kate is a perfect addition to the middle grade world of books and one I'll be recommending left and right.
SunnySD on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Orphaned Kate and her cat Taggle face trials and tribulation as she attempts to rid herself of a tinker's curse. Bereft of her shadow and stalked by a deadly sleeping sickness, not to mention the gypsy, Kate's survival depends on strength of will and her carving ability, but it may not be enough.In a word, powerful. In more than a word... not at all what I was expecting, but once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. A clever, competent, and determined heroine and who could resist Taggle. I'll even admit to shedding a few tears. Not the unhappiest of endings, all things considered.
bell7 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Katerina was always known as Plain Kate, ever since her father introduced her, as a baby, to the butcher. She has eyes of different color, and her features are rather plain. Her father teaches her to carve, and carve well, but the townspeople are suspicious of her abilities. Then her father dies in a plague that the people blame on witches. Alone and poor, Plain Kate is again under suspicion when a sleeping sickness moves through the towns. A real witch offers to give Kate the desire of her heart if she gives him her shadow. Only after she makes this bargain does she begin to learn the cost.This debut offering has an interesting premise and wonderful writing. I enjoyed the descriptions, which used a few well-chosen words to paint a picture in my mind leaving me to fill in the details. Kate and her cat, Tangle, are delightful characters, though I wished more was made of the secondary characters, like Drina, Behret, and Linay. I wanted to know them better than I did, but instead felt like I was never quite sure what they were like, what they would do or choose. Tangle, on the other hand, was great. The very fact that he is a cat is never forgotten, and he made me laugh several times. This is definitely a writer I'll be watching.
mountie9 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Good Stuff * Well crafted, beautifully written and unusual storyline * You'll need a hanky near the end, especially if you are a big baby like me * The author truly understand the haughty arrogance of cats and you can pretty much tell the author is a cat lover * I love the cat! * Kate is a very unusual and strong girl, I didn't like her at first, but I grew to love her. * Cover is spectacular * A truly unique story, I can honestly say I haven't read anything quite like it before * Some nice dry humour added just when it is needed * Ok, one more time, I love that cat! * Very realistic secondary characters. * No stereotypical bad guy, you can somewhat understand the choices the villains make * Hopeful endingThe Not so Good Stuff * a little bit of a downer at times * took me a little bit of time to get into it, but once I did I was happy that I didFavorite Quotes/Passages"He turned - stepping on her spleen - and sat. "I am sorry," he said. "I don't like it. It is a new word, sorry. It should not be a thing for cats.""And then, because hope will break the hear better than any sorrow, she started to cry.""Musssssicians,' the cat spat. "Do you know what fiddle strings are made of? Bah! I'm glad he's gone. Let's eat."What I Learned * That I too am a Cat lover -- ok, I knew that already "Cat's rule, dog's drool"Who should/shouldn't read * Fans of Hunger Games and other dystopian YA literature will love * I'm just guessing but serious dog lovers might be offended ; ) * Not for those who like a light hearted story * Honestly, I also think fans of Philip Pullmans will find something to enjoy4 Dewey'sI received this from Scholastic in exchange for an honest review and I got my copy signed at the OLA conference. She was really nice to chat with too : )
CatheOlson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A YA novel filled with superstition, witchcraft, and magic about a teenage girl "carver" who is set up to be suspected as a witch by an actual witch who wants her shadow. I liked the poetic writing and use of shadows and blood in magic, but was disappointed in the climax where (trying to explain without spoilers) all these new magic happenings seemed suddenly added in to make a happy ending.
Tatiana_G on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The highest praise I can give a book is to favorably compare it to my all-time favorites - "Lips Touch: Three Times" and "The Queen of Attolia." Erin Bow's writing style is as simple and precise, with not one extra, unnecessary word, as Megan Whalen Turner's and her story is as grounded in folklore while being completely original as Laini Taylor's.The basic premise of the novel is that Kate, a lonely, orphaned child with no one to take care of her, is tricked by a witch into giving up her shadow in exchange for her heart's wish. When Kate realizes the consequences of losing her shadow, she tries to get it back. But, of course, it's not a simple task.For a middle-grade novel, "Plain Kate" is very dark. Prepare yourself for torture, witch burnings, dark magic and blood sacrifices. Kate's life is grim and full of adversity. It doesn't help her case that she is accused of being a witch. The only bright spot in this story is Kate's feline companion Taggle. He must be one of the best written cats in literature.In spite of the grimness, however, "Plain Kate" carries a strong message of hope, true friendship, forgiveness and perseverance.I will definitely read Erin Bow's future novels and might give them 5 stars if, while preserving her excellent writing style, the author creates stories with older characters and some romance (yeah, I am that type of reader).
Booklady123 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First, I have to say that Bow created a character that I cared about and a story that I wanted to follow to the end. However, the book failed to live up to the story's potential. I found the pacing of the story to be too slow. The beginning spark of the story seemed to just die away. It was hard for me to finish this story. I have a rule about life being too short to finish books you don't have to read. I stuck it out with this book because I did care about Kate and wanted to know how her story ended. The ending was the best part of the book - not because it was the ending, but because I didn't see it coming. Though not a happy ending, it is one where the right things happen.
C.Ibarra on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Katerina Svetlana is known to most as Plain Kate. Raised by her father after her mother passed away. She has a gift with woodworking and hopes to become a master carver just like her father. When he dies from the witch's fever Kate is left alone. Too young and poor to become an apprentice to the carver taking her father's place in town, she finds herself living in her father's vacant booth in the town square with only a kitten for company. When strange things happen the townsfolk begin to suspect Plain Kate of witchcraft. This sets in motion Kate deciding to trade her shadow for the tools necessary to flee the small town she called home. Kate sets off on an adventure full of both excitement and grief. As her shadow slowly disappears she realizes her secrets won't stay hidden for long. When Kate agreed to the trade she didn't realize how difficult a shadowless life would be. I'm not sure why I was under the impression Plain Kate was a middle grade novel. It turned out to be much darker than I had anticipated which was actually a good thing. I love books reminiscent of fairy tales, but laced with darker themes. It took me much longer than I would have liked to finish reading, but it wasn't because of the book itself. It was more life getting in the way. I found myself constantly thinking of what trials Kate would face next and eager to slack on responsibilities in order to spend more time reading. All signs of a really good read. Kate is your classic outcast. Orphaned with an appearance that leads people to make incorrect assumptions. The town seemed to tolerate her until her father's death. After that poor Kate was on her own and struggling for survival. When the unexplainable occurs people search for someone to blame. Kate's "witch eyes" made her an easy target. Kate is the ideal heroine for this genre and fits her role in the story to perfection. There is also a great deal of wonderful secondary characters that Kate meets over the course of her journey. The cast of Plain Kate is exactly what characters in books should be. Well developed instead of just "filler characters". They felt just as familiar as main character and narrator, Kate. This isn't something that can be said of all books especially fantasy. With so much happening sometimes the secondary characters don't get the attention they deserve. This is not the case with the cast of Plain Kate. There is also a talking cat! As far as I'm concerned cats and fantasy go together like peanut butter and jelly. Give the cat the ability to speak, and I'm one happy reader. The ending was executed perfectly. I loved that while the conflict was resolved it stayed true the novels darker tones. I do love a happily ever after, but I also appreciate it when an author doesn't feel the need to insert rainbows and sunshine just to appease readers. Combine all of these elements with an amazing setting and you have a fantasy novel done right! This isn't a book everyone will love, but I think fans of fantasy will truly appreciate what Plain Kate has to offer.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Too violent and dark for me. Can't imagine recommending to a young reader.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing book, my absolute favorite! Linay is bae!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book, expecting just another book that I read for the sake of reading. But, as I began to get farther throught the book, I realized I could not put it down. I read it in one day. After that I read it five more times. Anyone who loves a book filled with magic and a few splashes of humor inbetween will love this book -ichigo tachikawa
mountain_and_the_sea More than 1 year ago
Even as a college student, I found myself falling in love with this YA novel. The plot, prose, and characters were simple, yet Erin Bow managed to turn such simplicity into poetry. It was an extremely quick read for me that was helped by the fast-moving story line and the lyrical prose. Bow blends Old World folktales with her own fantasy universe, creating a world that is both familiar and mysterious and made for a fitting setting for a book whose plot line made me tear through the novel in anticipation of how it was going to end. Plain Kate is anything but. A fantastic read for the young, old, and inbetween.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
GOOD BOOK ALERT Taggle is my favoritte this book is very sad and very good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love thus book