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REVIEW – White Cat (2010) By Holly Black

April 6, 2011

THE ZONE have my review of Holly Black’s White Cat, first in the Curse Workers series.

Somewhat off the beaten track of my traditional tastes but I heard it being discussed on Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond’s excellent podcast The Writer and The Critic and their booze and expletive-filled discussions prompted me to lever myself from my aesthetic rut and give YA another go. But is it YA?

The cover of the UK edition of White Cat is emblazoned with a sticker that reads “A novel for grown-ups from the author of Spiderwick”. This provides us with an interesting opportunity to question the meaning of the label ‘Young Adult’ beyond its utility in referring to both a marketing category and the output of a particular creative community with its own values and literary traditions. Indeed, with its youthful protagonists, accessible prose, broad (some might even say clunky) story-telling and absolute focus upon plot as central to the reading experience, White Cat bears an almost uncanny resemblance to Paolo Baccigaluppi’s excellent Shipbreaker (2010). While both novels feature uncluttered and easily accessible foregrounds dominated by simple characters that engage in simple adventures, both novels also possess extensive sub-textual payloads featuring energetic engagement with a wide array of philosophical and moral issues. Based on this, admittedly small, sample of books, one might suggest that the difference between grown-up fiction, children’s fiction and young adult fiction is that YA combines the accessible foreground of children’s fiction with the more complex sub textual architecture of grown-up fiction and so exists as a hybrid of the two.

I’m not sure if that makes any sense (as I said, I’ve really not read much YA) but it seems like a potential alternative than the attempt to define the genre in terms of its tropes and in particular the age of its protagonists.

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