Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"White Cat" (The Curseworkers Book 1) by Holly Black

White Cat (Curse Workers)

Grade 9 Up—Cassel, 17, is an anomaly as the only untalented one in a family of curse workers. While his mother, grandfather, and brothers make their living by illegally performing death curses, manipulating memories, and casting emotion charms, Cassel relies on his quick wit and con-artist skills to convince his private-school classmates that he's normal, despite bouts of sleepwalking and patchy memories of standing over a murdered friend named Lila. Nightmares about a white cat that resembles Lila, his family's ties to organized crime, and evidence of a mysterious plot against him threaten to pull Cassel into the world he's fought hard to resist. Black has written a dark coming-of-age tale with a likable hero. Teens will empathize with Cassel's desire to fit in and his occasional clashes with his family while rooting for him to unravel the conspiracy. Though readers will enjoy the fast-paced plot, there are points, particularly in the last few chapters, where the action is confusing and clarity appears sacrificed for expediency. Some secondary characters, such as Cassel's grandfather and friend Sam, are three-dimensional, while others, including his brothers and Lila, are less well realized. Despite these minor flaws, White Cat will appeal to readers who grew up on Holly Black's "Spiderwick Chronicles" (S & S) and are ready for something edgier.—Leah J. Sparks, formerly at Bowie Public Library, MD 

Normally, I write reviews based on my own feelings about a book without trying to be objective about whether it was a "good" book or not...just if I personally enjoyed it. 
With White Cat, I realized quickly that this wasn't my kind of book. The characters are dark and more than a little twisted, and I prefer my characters to be more clearly good vs. evil. Their motivations are never pure and no one is a truly great person. I wouldn't want to meet and hang out with a single character in this book in real life. 
BUT I can't deny that Holly Black did an amazing job with this story. The characterization is extremely well done, because even though the people are unlikeable I really understood how they got that way. Cassel is a con man and hates himself quite a bit, but since I understood him so well I was able to sympathize with him at least to an extent. The backstory for his royally screwed up childhood helped. I even got the psychology of why he was attracted to the bold, bullying, and brutal Lila. 
Also, I should mention I listened to the audiobook. Jesse Eisenberg (star of "The Social Network") is an outstanding narrator. The book is written in first person from Cassel's POV, and Eisenberg's voice was engaging. He made Cassel easier to spend time with. 
As far as plot goes, I won't sum it up since many other reviews have. I will say that I figured out what was going on with the cat pretty early on, but the whole world of curseworkers was so interesting and unique I didn't care that the mystery wasn't very mysterious. 
I'm giving the book four stars because I would recommend it for readers who don't like their characters squeaky clean (even though I do), who like ambiguity and don't need a happy ending, and because I ended up thinking a lot about Cassel and the other characters even after I finished the book. When it book sticks with you, even if it disturbed you, I think it deserves four stars. And of course I ended up tracking down the sequel, Red Glove, the next day because I really wanted to know what happened next. 
Language: some, nothing too drastic or pervasive 
Sexual content: several references to sexual acts, one intense makeout session that was about to go further before it was interrupted. 
Lots of teen drinking and general immorality. In a book about magical grifters and a curseworking mafia, that's to be expected.
*4 Cupcakes, although I realize this book is going to be too gritty for some readers. Also, I wasn't able to finish Red Glove because things only got darker and dirtier, and it wasn't something I enjoyed reading*

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