Posts tagged ‘conartists’

June 17th, 2011

White Cat by Holly Black; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: White Cat

Author: Holly Black

Published: January 1st, 2010

Number of Pages: 336

Rating: 4/5


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. [From Goodreads]


And if I wanted to kill myself, I wouldn’t throw myself off a roof. And if I was going to throw myself off a roof, I would put on some pants before I did it.


*Note: I wrote this back at the beginning of April!

I am thrilled to report that I’ll be attending an event of both Cassandra Clare’s and Holly Black’s next Wednesday. I’ve known they’re close friends for a long time but have never gotten around to reading one of Holly’s books, despite how much I adore Cassie’s. I am so glad I checked White Cat out! I’m a million times more excited to meet the two of them! It’s remarkable how similar Holly Blacks’ style and voice are to Cassandra Clare’s (a feeling that was increased by the fact that the font and design of the book is nearly identical to Cassie’s). It’s no wonder they get along well!

White Cat is a very well-executed and fun book about cunning characters. I loved the “mobster” families and ever-present feeling of foreboding. You couldn’t trust anyone, including Cassel’s (the main character) family. His mother, for instance, is an emotional worker. No, she doesn’t start crying whenever she writes on post-its or giggling when she makes photo-copies – she has the ability to change a person’s emotions with a simple touch of her hand.

Because of the potential danger posed by workers around the world and people’s general disinterest in being manipulated (imagine that!), everyone is required to wear gloves – workers and non-workers alike. Though being a worker isn’t the best situation for a family (the government takes a bit too much of an interest in them), Cassel can’t help but feel cheated. He’s the only member of his family without any sort of power. Coming from a family of workers, Cassel doesn’t fit in with the public. It seems he doesn’t belong anywhere – he’s the odd one out at home and the mysterious, well, weirdo at school. His social status takes a bigger hit when he’s suspended from school after getting stranded on a roof and having no recollection of how he got there.

All he remembers is his dream about a white cat biting off his tongue and running away with it.


Cassel’s adventure with the white cat only accelerates from there, the risks building up like block Lego towers in a pediatrician’s waiting room (ignore the oddness of that metaphor). Not only were betrayals and the wacky plans of conniving people being unveiled right and left, but Cassel himself kept me, as a reader, alert. He’s certainly a gifted conman, and his own clever plots left me in the dust more than once. I’d have to pause and take a moment to catch up with his train of thought. I love it when a main character is intelligent, even if that intelligence is often used to pull of cons – particularly if that intelligence is used to pull of cons.

Not only is Cassel smart, but he’s a genuinely nice guy. I’m sorry if I’m losing you. You’re probably thinking: “Didn’t she just explain how fabulous he is at deceiving people? What sort of people does Madeleine hang out with?” I don’t usually select thieves as friends, and if I did, they would likely (and unfortunately) be lacking magical powers. However, Cassel really does surprise you. It was soon clear to me that the biggest difference between him and the workers in his family is that he sympathizes. Though many people around him would consider it a weakness, Cassel can’t resist feeling for the people around him – including the people he’s conning. His voice is the sort that I connect to immediately. He’s reluctantly honest with himself at all times, and that adds a quality to his character that makes him all the more real.

There are so many colorful people in this book! His family is so hectic and insane that I couldn’t possible stop talking about them if I started, so I’ll do you a favor and only discuss his friends, namely Sam, Daneca, and Lila. Cassel had known Lila his whole life up to a specific and tragic moment that I’ll leave for you to read. It’s evident from the memories he has of her that she loved him, not necessarily in a romantic sort of way, but I knew she thought he was just as adorable as I did. She’s rowdy and rough around the edges, but an irresistible person all the same. Daneca and Sam are Cassel’s, um, “friend interests”. They’re not technically in any sort of real relationship to begin with, but possible candidates. They’re quirky and entertaining, and Cassel soon finds there’s more to them than he thought before.

I think that’s true of the entire book, actually. There’s more to everything than originally appears – even Cassel. As Holly Black’s intricate story unravels, layer upon layer is revealed. This book and the characters within it are like an onion. Or an ogre. I encourage everyone who is a fan of a blissfully relatable voice and suspenseful, crafty plots to peel it (unless you choose the ogre simile over the onion, in which case I advise conversation over peeling).