A Review of Erin Bow’s Plain Kate (Scholastic Inc., 2012)
By Derek Newman-Stille
In a world where magic is real and witches are hunted, Erin Bow’s Plain Kate explores society’s trend of scapegoating people who are different, making villains out of people who don’t fit the ideas of normal behaviour. Plain Kate is a woman whose appearance is plain, but who has two different coloured eyes, marking her as a social target. She is made even more of a target because she is clever and talented. Others can’t accept that her skills are natural or due to incredible effort on her part, they automatically attribute her skills to witchcraft and persecute her, driving her out of her home and away from her community.
In her desire to find a place for herself, and escape from the hate around her, Plain Kate makes a deal with a witch who has come to town: she trades her own shadow for a way to survive on her own… and in the process unintentionally expresses her secret wish for a companion. Her cat is suddenly gifted with the ability to speak and becomes something in-between human and cat as Plain Kate becomes something between living and dead, a woman without a shadow who feels herself fading away.
Kate takes on the name “Plain Kate”, trying to mark herself as plain in appearance, not noticeable and easily missed. Giftedness is dangerous in her community, so Plain Kate finds other social outcasts, outsiders and those who have been expelled from their societies. Plain Kate finds a group of people called Roamers, other people who are persecuted who live on the fringes. She learns their customs and finds a new place for herself, a family.
Plain Kate is not left alone with her new community, she is followed by a sleeping sickness, a monster in the fog, and a witch bent of vengeance for his sister’s death. Plain Kate’s shadow has been shared with a rusalka, a figure from myth: a drowned woman who haunts the edges of life. Kate’s compassion compels her to sacrifice herself for the very community that had rejected and outcast her.
Plain Kate is a novel steeped in magic, where the mysteries flow off of the page and into your imagination.
To find out more about Erin Bow, you can explore her website at http://www.erinbow.com/ . To find out more about Plain Kate, you can check out Scholastic’s website at http://www.scholastic.ca/titles/plainkate/