White Cat (The Curse Workers) by Holly Black
October 15, 2012 in Black, Holly, Book Club Possibility, High School Teachers, Journal Writing, Journal Writing, Middle School Teachers, Writing Skills, Young Adult Novels Tags: contemporary fantasy, Holly Black, Making Personal Connections, young adult fantasy novels, young adult paranormal novels
*Young adult, contemporary fantasy
*17-year-old boy as the main character
*Rating: I love this book–I love Holly Black. (I actually met her a few years ago at Words in the Woods–and she is super nice and smart, too!) I’m sorry that I’m behind the times on reading her books. She put this series out when I was moving and having a baby. I’m definitely looking for book two next!
Short, short summary: I should probably explain “the world” first. In this novel, we are in contemporary times, and there are people called CURSE WORKERS who are able to control people/events with the touch of a finger on someone’s skin. There are curse workers like main character Cassel’s mom, who control emotions, and there are other workers who can control memories and luck. There are even a rare few who can transform things, such as a human into an animal. Regular, old humans are scared to death of these workers; and some of them, including Cassel’s family, are connected to major crime families. As a matter of fact, Cassel’s brothers work for one of the biggest crime boss’s nephews. Everyone wears gloves, so that the workers don’t stand out from the non-workers.
When the novel opens, readers discover that Cassel is the only non-worker in his worker family. He tries to make up for this by being a good con-man, which he is actually just okay at (in my opinion–he thinks he is pretty good). He finds himself in trouble in chapter one when he follows a white cat while he is sleeping up to the roof of his dorm; and school officials make him leave, go to a doctor, and get a note that says he won’t sleepwalk again.
Once he is home and figuring out how to con a doctor into writing this type of note, he notices his brothers are acting strangely as well as his brother’s wife (his mom is in prison for con games and is about to get out). He soon discovers secrets surrounding his family–including him, and he must outsmart the con men (his brothers) to figure out what is actually going on. Besides all of this, you find out in the beginning that Cassel killed his friend, Lila, three years ago, but he has no memory of doing it or why he did it. This mystery is also tied into what is going on with his brothers.
I don’t want to say any more and give anything in the plot away. For me, it started out a little slow; but by the middle, I couldn’t put it down!
So what do I do with this book?
1. This is the perfect book for teenagers who feel like they don’t fit in with their families. You can open up discussion with them about this topic by first talking about Cassel and how he doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of his family and why. You can ask them to journal about Cassel and his brothers and encourage them to compare/contrast to themselves.
2. Cassel is considered an unreliable narrator. Here’s a definition from Wikipedia: “The opposite of a reliable narrator, an unreliable narrator typically displays characteristics or tendencies that indicate a lack of credibility or understanding of the story. Whether due to age, mental disability or personal involvement, an unreliable narrator provides the reader with either incomplete or inaccurate information as a result of these conditions.” So, why is Cassel an unreliable narrator? Could he be anything but? What would have changed WHITE CAT if Holly Black would have written it in third person instead of first? Do most 1st person books have unreliable narrators? Discuss these questions and more with students.
3. Fun journal question: If you could be a curse worker, would you? What type would you want to be? Why? How would you feel about people being prejudice against you just because you are a worker?