Friday, August 10, 2012

White Cat by Holly Black

At the start of Holly Black’s White Cat, 17-year-old Cassel is anxious to let us know that he is not a good guy. He comes from a family of curse workers and has grown up learning how to con everyone he encounters. And, most chillingly, he killed the one girl he ever loved.

He can’t remember much about it. His brothers won’t talk to him about it, and his mother, who is in prison for working a wealthy man, tells him to do what his brothers say. For some time that has meant attending a boarding school and trying to stay out of trouble, which, since Cassel is the only member of his family without worker abilities, isn’t difficult. But when Cassel wakes up at the top of a school building’s tower with no idea how he got there, his safe life begins to crumble. As he tries to solve the mystery of his sleepwalking, dreams of a white cat intersect with his memories of Lila, the girl he killed, the mobsters that his brothers work for, and a knot of family secrets and lies.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Early in American Born Chinese, a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang, a teacher introduces young Jin Wang to his new third-grade class: “I’d like us all to give a warm Mayflower Elementary welcome to your new friend and classmate Jing Jang!” She then proclaims that Jin came “all the way from China.” Wrong again. Jin’s parents are from China; Jin was born in San Francisco. This is just a taste of the casual and often deliberate racism that Jin will face at his new school. Yang’s bright and cheerful artwork contrasts nicely with the complex effect that this treatment has on Jin’s own sense of himself and, in turn, on his own treatment of the people he cares about.