Also, this cover is gorgeous. I know judging books by their covers is not the way to go, but how can you not read a book with a cover this beautiful?
Fantastic cover is fantastic.
But, gorgeous covers aside, I finally got my hands on it, and boy was I right when I thought "I have to read this." PLAIN KATE is wonderful. Absolutely positively wonderful, and you need to go read it RIGHT NOW. (Unless you are currently in a public place. More on that later.)
The voice in this book is spot-on. It's as though Bow has crafted her own fairytale, and she does it well. Of course a story about granting wishes and missing shadows and talking cats would start "A long time ago, in a market town by a looping river, there lived an orphan girl called Plain Kate." Of course. And the language throughout the whole book is lyrical; I'm going to have to reread it soon so I can properly soak up every word without needing to hurry on ahead to find out what happens next.
I also loved the setting. It's one of those fantasy novels that takes place in a world so near our own you can almost recognize it - perhaps Eastern Europe roundabouts the 15th century. It is a time when everyone both loves and fears remarkable things, and poor Kate soon falls under the category of something to fear, because she is so skilled with her carving knife. There are gypsies (called Roamers rather than Roma, which I thought was clever and fitting) and witches and spells - the whole atmosphere is enchanting and eerie at the same time.
But the best part about PLAIN KATE is Kate herself and Taggle, her talking cat. Kate is a wonderful heroine, scared and lost and confused at times, but brave; she doesn't know how to fix things, but she knows how to survive and she's going to find a way to make things better. And Taggle is the most perfect talking cat. I have two cats myself, and I feel like Erin Bow must have cats as well, because Taggle is just so cat-like, rather than being a talking cat that sounds more like a human. I loved that half of his observations were about food. There is a moment when Taggle has been hurt and Kate is terribly worried about him:
She eased the cat off her shoulder, muttering, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
"Why? What for?" said Taggle. "Did I miss something? Was there food?"
Now, about the reading in public thing - I read PLAIN KATE during two babysitting sessions. For the second half, I was watching my cousin at the pool, and I had to look away every half-page and take several deep breaths to keep myself from bawling like a baby. I was seriously considering putting it down and finishing it in my room so I could cry over it and not look like a lunatic at the pool, but that really wasn't an option. Of course I had to finish it. There was no way I could put down a book as good as this one ten pages from the end, even if it meant getting a few strange looks from the kids on the tetherball court. PLAIN KATE is absolutely worth it.
I would recommend reading the ending someplace where you can have a good cry and not be embarrassed about it. But absolutely, definitely go read this book.