In Cassel Sharpe's world, prohibition applied not only to alcohol but also to curse work (magic). But when liquor was made legal, curse work was still forbidden, which led to the rise of the New Jersey families.
The crime syndicates are run by skilled workers (magicians), who can alter dreams, change memories, create emotions, and cause death all with a single touch of a bare hand on bare skin. Everyone wears gloves, and there is a thriving market in protective charms.
Holly Black's White Cat: The Curse Workers Book One is a fresh and unique approach to the young adult paranormal genre. The story, which is part magic, part paranormal, and a lot mobster, is told by Cassel Sharpe, the only nonworker in a family known for its curse-work skills. He has compensated by becoming a talented grifter, and he makes a nice income as a clandestine bookie at his private high school.
Unfortunately not much more can be said without revealing spoilers. The plot is well constructed, and although it is possible to figure out some of the plot before events are revealed, there is plenty that will catch you off-guard. The mobster theme and alternate history are perfectly presented, making it easy to suspend belief.
The Sharpes are delightfully dysfunctional, and Cassel's mother and grandfather are particularly colorful. Although Cassel is often bullied by his older brothers, he is no pushover, and it is fun to see how the teen works his cons.
I listened to the audiobook edition (Listening Library) read by Jesse Eisenberg, who brilliantly conveyed Cassel's wide range of emotions from frustration to sorrow, love, fear, and excitement. His reading made it easy for me to get lost the story, and I listened to the entire 6.75-hour production in two evenings. My review focusing on the narrative performance was published on the AudioFile magazine website.
This video interview with Holly Black explains the setting of White Cat better than I can. There are no spoilers in this video.
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Published by Simon & Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010
Source: Review--both print and audio (see review policy)
Rating: B+Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)