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Book Review: White Cat by Holly Black

I started reading White Cat on my 9-hour flight home from Europe. Due to its sheer awesomeness (and the fact that I was totally wired and unable to sleep), I read about 75 percent of the book. Holly Black is such a magical writer.

This book is not to be missed!

White Cat Book Review, Holly Black

Title & Author: White Cat White Cat by Holly Blackby Holly Black  (Read the First Chapter here!)

Genre: YA/Fantasy

Release Date: May 4, 2010

Series: Book 1 in a planned series

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry (Simon Schuster Imprint)

How I Got the Book: Bought (Part of my Vacation Reads)


“Cassel comes from a family of curse workers — people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they’re all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn’t got the magic touch, so he’s an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail — he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.

Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He’s noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he’s part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.”


Cassel Sharpe isn’t your regular hero. His family is full of curse workers who can change emotions, alter memories or even kill with the touch of their bare hands. The only person who’s not a curse worker is Cassel. Aside from coping with his lack of “working” abilities and his guilt over his best friend’s death (a murder he thinks he was involved in), Cassel’s just a regular con artist kid.

Witty and Inviting

In a nutshell, what I loved best about this book was Cassel. He’s a witty, clever trouble maker. Like Tris from Divergent, Cassel’s not a noble hero who’s completely selfless. He has vices. I mean, with his family who can blame him? His mom uses her emotion-working abilities to con rich men out of money, and his brother Philip works as a hit man for Zacharov, the head of a crime mafia.

Although Cassel can’t work curses, he’s well-versed in the art of the con. Like running an underground betting pool at his snooty private school. Yet, Cassel’s “wrongness” is so right.

He longs to be a valued member of his family, which equates to being a curse worker, but he also dreams of being just a normal kid. And in that struggle, Cassel and his crazy curse-working family shine. I really rooted for him- even though he lied, cheated and stole.

I was totally engaged in every sentence of every page because I was dying to find out what would happen next to this crazy con artist kid. How would he talk his way out of trouble this time? Could he discover what happened to his murdered friend, Lila?

Some of the ways Black makes this story so fun and relatable:

  • The book is told from Cassel’s perspective
  • The world in this story is highly anti-curse worker, which gives the feeling of wanting to stick it to the man
  • Darker parts are lightened with Cassel’s endless sarcasm and humor
  • A sense of danger, mystery and power surrounds curse working

Real Situations & Connections

Although some books have a very clear YA-aimed audience, some stories deal with themes that people of any age can identify with. White Cat is definitely one of those books. Cassel deals with issues like rejection, family drama and feeling like an outsider- plus, he struggles with jealousy, betrayal and unrequited love.

These are universal ideas that are presented in a way that both an 80-year-old and an 18-year-old would find interesting. Cassel’s story is one that is both foreign and familiar. He’s surrounded by crime and chaos, yet he’s just a regular senior in high school who’s trying to find his way.

I also appreciated Black’s ability to surprise. She doesn’t fall into cliched plot traps. A lot of exciting action and mystery take place that I not only failed to predict but totally blind-sided me. I love that!

After you read a couple hundred books, sometimes you can feel like you’ve “read it all” and can’t be surprised by a book’s twists and turns. Black keeps things fresh. Even if I did see something coming, Black put a new spin on it that made it seem new all over again. (I know I’m being vague, but I really hate spoilers!)

Black’s writing is just amazing. She has of sinking her literary claws into readers and never letting go.

Like here, at the end of the 1st chapter:

For me, the curse is a crutch, but the con is everything.

It was my mother who taught me that if you’re going to screw someone over- with magic and wit or with alone- you have to know the mark better than he knows himself.

The first thing you have to do is gain his confidence. Charm him. Just be sure he thinks he’s smarter than you are. Then you- or, ideally, your partner, suggest the score.

…Being a con artist means thinking that you’re smarter than everyone else and that you’re thought of everything. That you can get away with anything. That you can con anyone.

I wish I could say that I don’t think about the con when I deal with people, but the difference between me and my mother is that I don’t con myself.”


White Cat is a must-read. I LOVED this book!! I gobbled it up and couldn’t get enough. I’m almost finished devouring Red Glove, the second book in the Curse Workers series. Do yourself a favor and read the first (free!) chapter in the link I listed above. I dare you to resist buying White Cat after you’re finished!

About Lisa Parkin

I'm a hardcore lover of young adult fiction and have been reviewing books since 2011. Other interests include Downton Abbey, heat lightning storms, Harry Potter land and (begrudingly) one orange tabby.