New to Me: Kat, Incorrigible

Kat, Incorrigible
Stephanie Burgis
First published 2011

My history with this book
None, since it was only published a few years ago.

My thoughts
Kat, Incorrigible is a delightful middle grade book about a 12-year-old girl in Regency England who has magical talents. It’s an alternative Regency England where magic exists. Katherine Ann Stephenson is the youngest of four children. Her mother, from whom she inherited her talents, died shortly after she was born, and her father later remarried. Kat’s stepmother values propriety above all else and wants to restore the family’s social position, which was damaged because Kat’s mother was a witch.

Kat spends a lot of time getting into trouble, and she’s often at odds with her stepmother and her older sisters, prim and proper Elissa and spitfire Angeline. The family’s financial situation is dire. Kat’s older brother Charles has incurred huge gambling debts and will be sent to debtor’s prison if he can’t pay them. The family can’t afford to bail him out, but if he goes to prison, it will ruin the family’s reputation and make it impossible for the sisters to make good marriages. The family’s best hope is for the beautiful Elissa to find a rich husband, and the stepmother has her eye on Sir Neville Collingwood, who is very rich, but also very creepy and his first wife died under mysterious circumstances. Kat is determined to save her sister from marrying Sir Neville, and she’s willing to use her newfound magical powers if needed.

So, basically, you’ve got all the social pressures of Pride and Prejudice against a backdrop of magic. Even with magical powers, Kat and her sisters are at the mercy of society. I enjoyed the social aspects of the book very much. I was less impressed with the magical system, which felt a little vague to me, but this is the first book in a trilogy and I assume the magical side of things will be explored in more detail in the subsequent books. Kat is a great heroine, a feisty kid who strains against the conventions of society. She’s very bright, but she’s still a kid and she often misinterprets situations, sometimes to hilarious effects. I also enjoyed the subversion of the evil stepmother trope. In this case, Kat’s birth mother was an actual witch, and although Kat can’t stand her stepmother, the woman isn’t evil and she’s stuck in a difficult position.

I think this book would be good for kids who are interested in history and/or magic. Depending on your child’s age and interest in history, you may need to provide some context about Regency England. You could have an interesting discussion with your child about women’s roles during this period and how constricted their lives were.

Would I want my kid to read it

Is there any objectionable content?
No. Obviously, there are historical attitudes toward women that are offensive, but they are well done in the historical context, and Kat rebels against the constraints of society.

It’s available in print and ebook.

80s Flashback: Little Sister

Little Sister (Sweet Dreams #5)
Yvonne Green
First published 1981

My history with this book
I read a lot of Sweet Dreams books when I was around 11 or 12, and the cover of this one looked very familiar, so I was sure I had read it. But I remembered nothing about it, and the plot didn’t come back to me when I read it (possibly because it’s a really unmemorable book).

My thoughts
I was pleasantly surprised that the first Sweet Dreams book I revisited wasn’t too bad (How Do You Say Goodbye), but unfortunately, I can’t say the same about Little Sister. It’s the story of Cindy Halley, an upper middle class white girl from the suburbs (80s teen romance series didn’t have a lot of racial or socioeconomic diversity, unless the white middle class suburban heroine was dating someone from the “wrong side of the tracks”). Cindy’s life is miserable because she’s just turned 16 and she doesn’t have a boyfriend. It’s not terribly img_3286surprising that Cindy is dateless and not as popular as her older sister, because Cindy has all the personality of dry toast. She spends the first few chapters of the book whining about her lack of dates, until popular senior Ron inexplicably becomes interested in her. Ron is a sort of magical unicorn, a star basketball player who’s also a talented actor, hard-working, and devoted to his family. He’s also lacking in a personality, which may be why he and Cindy are attracted to each other.

Once Cindy has a boyfriend, she spends the rest of the book terrified that Ron is going to fall in love with her sister Christine, because Ron and Christine are playing Romeo and Juliet in the sch0ol play. I was sort of hoping Ron would dump Cindy for Christine, because although Christine is awful, she’s more interesting than snoresville Cindy. Of course, Ron sticks with Cindy because the heroine of a Sweet Dreams romance never gets the short end of the stick.

Although it’s less than 150 pages, I struggled to finish Little Sister. Cindy and Ron are painfully dull, and I just couldn’t bring myself to care about them. It’s also obvious to everyone but the terminally stupid Cindy that nothing going on with Ron and Christine, so there’s no real tension in the story.

Would I want my kid to read it?

Is there any objectionable content?
Attitudes about dating feel a little dated, but there’s nothing terribly objectionable about this book (unless you object to being bored to tears).

Can you read it aloud?
Please don’t.

Little Sister is long out of print, but it’s not too hard to find used copies.