White Cat, by Holly Black

Bookstores are currently overflowing with YA novels about vampires and werewolves, but the majority of the “monsters” in these books seem like fundamentally nice guys. They care about their pack-mates (or whatever they call their supernatural brethren), refrain from eating people, and find themselves inexplicably drawn to accident-prone human girls. They probably tip well in restaurants, and I find most of their undead Boy Scout antics unbelievably boring.

This is why I always enjoy reading Holly Black's YA books. Her characters might be messed up, but at least they're never dull. Her most recent effort is White Cat, a supernatural thriller set in a world where "curse workers" can change emotions, memories, or luck with a touch of their fingers. Curse work is illegal, so most workers drift into criminal careers: con artists, grifters, the mafia. Cassel Sharpe is the only non-worker in his jailbird family, but he's got problems of his own—he killed his best friend, the daughter of a mob boss, three years ago, and his two brothers helped him cover it up. But as his dreams grow increasingly bizarre, Cassel begins to wonder if his memory of Lila's death was magically altered... and, if so, why his brothers lead him to believe otherwise.

As with Black's “Modern Tales of Faerie” series, White Cat is flush with creepiness both magical and mundane. Relationships range from manipulative to outright abusive, there's plenty of Sopranos-style mob violence, and some self-inflicted (and seriously icky) gore. Black could have made far more of her New Jersey setting—as it is, the book could take place in any urban area big enough to support mafia interests—but her nuanced and carefully-researched portrait of a family of con artists rings true.

But the best thing about White Cat is its twist ending, which falls somewhere between “satisfying” and “totally freaky”. I'm unclear if the next book in this series will feature the same characters (according to Black's Wikipedia page, she's planning two sequels), but finding a YA horror novel that concludes with something other than an unqualified happily-ever-after is a rare treat.
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


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