White Cat by Holly Black

by Sydnee Thompson

“I am not a good person.”

This is a statement that Cassel Sharpe, seventeen-year-old protagonist of Holly Black’s White Cat, repeats throughout the book. I’m inclined to disagree – I think if I were Cassel, I would’ve ended up a whole lot worse.

Trying desperately to fit into normal society at the Wallingford Boarding School in New York, he lives each day with the guilt of knowing he killed his best friend, Lila, only years earlier. He doesn’t know how or why, but the memories of Lila’s cold body and the blood on his hands is something he believes he will never forget.

This isn’t your standard tale of youth gone bad, though. Cass is one of a family of curse workers, a small segment of the population that can use powerful magic to manipulate others with a mere touch of the hand. Understandably, most people are terrified of curse workers and wearing gloves is a required practice in the world. Cass, however, is the unlucky youngest brother born without any curse working abilities, which makes his blurry memories surrounding the death of Lila even more mind boggling. And when Cass begins to sleepwalk, the same white cat haunting him both awake and asleep, it becomes clear that his whole family is embroiled in a conspiracy that once brought to light, will change his life forever.

Despite the intriguing concept, there are two things that irritated me about this book. First, slugging through the beginning is pretty brutal. Holly Black seems to have a love of describing furniture, architecture, and dreams, and I found myself skimming often. The dream aspect of the story proves to be vital by the conclusion, but I still feel like there was too much idling and not enough substance. Second, the entire cast of characters is utterly unlikeable. Nothing really pulls me to any of them. Cass, while not unlikeable per se, isn’t exactly likeable either. He’s not particularly charismatic, funny, or relatable, which makes me believe that he could’ve been switched out for any other character type without the book losing much. The only strong emotion I have for him is overwhelming pity for his awful lot in life. That strikes me as a really bad sign. Every other character, from his mother to his brothers to his grandfather and even his best friend, Lila, are all jerks. The only redeemable character, Sam, doesn’t get nearly enough exposure or development. Sadly, it wasn’t a matter of whether I disliked a character, but a matter of which character I disliked the least.

It wasn’t until the 180 page mark, which is well past halfway, that I was really entertained. Still, when the ball finally got rolling, I was hooked on the plot. Black slips the readers bits and pieces of important information in such a way that they don’t even know she’s doing it, so when the conclusion arrives they’re banging their heads into the wall wondering why they didn’t see it sooner. I think that makes the experience even more fun. So no, this isn’t a flawless read, but it is unique and the climax is satisfying. I don’t see myself reading the sequel that comes out later this year, however, because it seems like way more melodrama than I can take.

Want a different perspective? Try Kay‘s October review of the same novel!

Sydnee is a freshman at Wayne State University pursuing a degree in Journalism. Her hobbies include painting and taking long afternoon naps. She is obsessed with hunky heroes, explosions, melodrama, and magic—all things that make a frequent appearance in her stories. Her blog is http://syd-dreams.blogspot.com.

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