Thursday, May 19, 2011

Review: White Cat by Holly Black

White Cat by Holly Black

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (May 4, 2010)
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages (Paperback): 310
Series: Curse Workers (Book 1)
Source: Library
ISBN-13: 9781416963967
Genre: Urban Fantasy

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. 

Holly Black has created a gripping tale of mobsters and dark magic where a single touch can bring love — or death — and your dreams might be more real than your memories.


After getting into this book, I began to really enjoy the story that was being told. Black has constructed an alternate reality of Curse Workers that extends back into the most ancient of histories; workers populate Australia and the United States pilfering jobs for crime families like The Godfather.

In this sense, I thought that the story had a hint of a dystopian concept even though it wasn't a dystopia. In a world of curse workers, everyone is forced to wear gloves; everyone lives in fear of getting worked. In Cassel's world, someone coming at you with bare hands can be more deadly than a sharpened knife.

Black also had strong familial themes that ran through this book. After his heinous crime against Lila and the Zacharov family, Cassel's brothers were there to help him and make sure his crime went unpunished; the big brothers cleaning up the mess. But then, we also see the insanely dysfunctional side of his family and the family he realized he always wanted but never had. With a mother in jail, living in the house of a hoarder, and being released from school, Cassel begins to unravel the truth about families; even a deep level of loyalty he can't seem to shake.

As the story progresses, we have the privilege to watch Cassel grow as a person. Bearing witness to character development is a strong part of this book as we see him go from leading a life of "normalcy" to honestly having and trusting friends. His intelligence surges as he realizes the biggest con of his life. From the roof, the only place to go is down, but when he hits rock bottom and finds the truth, the only place for him to go is up.

The one aspect that caused me to not really love the book was the easy-to-unravel plot. It wasn't hard for me to know what was really going on with Cassel as to what he was and what was happening to him. But even knowing what was happening, the read was still enjoyable and Black's writing was great. It was also the first book that had a character with a name similar to mine (the same as my nickname): Lila. But that was a personal little smile point, and not really important to anyone else, I'm sure.

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