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Guest Review: WHITE CAT by Holly Black

TITLE: White Cat: The Curseworkers

AUTHOR: Holly Black

LENGTH: 320 pages

PUBLISHER: Margaret K. McElderry Books

REVIEW: One of the most elusive wonders of the YA literary world is the authentic male narrator, and one of the most happily met of the bunch is Holly Black’s Cassel Sharpe, the youngest son of a family of con artists and criminals. Like his literary compatriots, Heather Brewer’s Vlad Tod and John Green’s Miles Halter and Cassandra Clare’s Simon Lewis, Cassel is trying to figure out how to navigate the complicated and bewildering world of girls and school and life in general. However, in Cassel’s case, there’s an added twist: Cassel is the only non-Worker in a family of Curse Workers, people with the magical ability to influence emotions, change memories, or even kill with a single touch. Cassel’s inability to work magic places him on the margins of his family’s world, a spectator to the alliances and influences of the Mafia-esque Worker crime families of New York and New Jersey. Seeking a place where he can be “normal,” Cassel tries to fit in as a regular guy at a prestigious boarding school, which doesn’t really work for him, either. Cassel’s between-two-worlds status adds a level of difficulty to his search for a place to belong, but he brings his own unique skill set to the challenge.

You see, Cassel Sharpe is a grifter. As in: con man, swindler, scam artist, fast talker. He’s been trained from birth by his parents to pick locks, talk fast, pick pockets, size up marks, and run cons. And he is GOOD at his work. One of the most entertaining parts of the Curse Workers series is Cassel’s explanation of the thinking and practices of a con artist; think Michael Westen meets Nate Ford meets Daniel Ocean. There’s also a dash of Robin Hood in the mix, as Cassel struggles to balance his criminal upbringing with his innate sense of right and wrong.

We meet Cassel Sharpe in the first book of the trilogy, White Cat, as he is trying to balance between his two worlds, both literally and figuratively. Jolted awake to find himself teetering on the icy edge of his dormitory roof, Cassel begins a series of adventures and misadventures that lead to shocking discoveries about himself, his family, and the world around him. As he tries to solve the mystery of his own past, Cassel must decide whom to trust and what to believe, even when everything he knows about himself is brought into question.

White Cat moves fast, with unexpected twists and plenty of action, and Cassel’s voice keeps the reader entranced, shifting kaleidoscopically from irony to bemusement to keen intelligence to wistfulness to self-recrimination to idealism. We root for Cassel, urging him on as he puts together the clues through his own cleverness and some pretty wild schemes. Holly Black creates a world peopled with characters who are as surprising as the situations Cassel gets himself into—and out of—and her approach to the Workers’ magical abilities is as unique as her take on the criminal with a heart of gold. Cassel’s experiences bring into question the roles of memory and belief in identity. If we are what we remember, what happens when we can’t trust those memories? Are we still the same people if everything we believe about ourselves is wrong? As Cassel Sharpe tries to peel back the layers of appearance to find the truth, he gets himself far deeper into the shady world of Curse Workers than he ever imagined possible—and it’s a thrilling ride for the lucky reader.

Kathryn Spradlin is a lover of a good story and, therefore, many YA books and authors. She is a fan of words and writing and intelligent conversation. Kathryn’s passion for the written word has lead her to teach in middle school, high school, and to train future teachers. She is a reader, writer, mom, friend, teacher, coffee fanatic, and a wicked-smart lady. Kathryn Spradlin is a Visiting Assistant and Teacher in Residence in English Education in the School of Teacher Education at The Florida State University. You can follow her on Twitter at @katsprad or http://katsprad.tumblr.com/ 

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