Local author Bonnie Shimko's new book is a dark, young adult fable
Story by Kerry McAvoy
In the book Kat's Promise, by local author Bonnie Shimko, 12-year-old Katherine, or Kat, moves in with her rich, alcoholic aunt after her mother dies of cancer. Kat blames her aunt for the death of her mother, and makes a promise that she will avenge her mother's demise. Along the way, Kat gets help from a spunky housekeeper, named Nettie, and two school friends, named Beamer Talson (a name that may very well be one of the greatest literature anmes ever created) and Isaac Harper. Kat goes about trying to make her aunt pay for her crimes against her mother, while trying to navigate the world of junior high and adjust to her new life as an orphan.
Shimko seems to reach for poetry in her writing, but it seems highly unlikly that a 12 year old would use many of the phrases Shimko uses. Instead of seeming fresh and intelligent, it comes across as forced. Many of the things that Kat supposedly thinks are too philosophical for an eighth grader. Most likely, there aren't many junior high students running around thinking of the clouds as bundles of dirty laundry, but overall, the flow of her writing makes me almost believe a girl that young could be thinking these thoughts.
Some readers may have trouble sympathizing with the heroine of the book. Kat comes across at times as a spoiled child with a frightening imagination. She spends most of the book hating her aunt. In the beginning of the book, she lists off ways in which to kill her aunt that are, frankly, a little twisted. In one fantasy she wishes "the furnace explodes while Aunt Paulina's standing next to it." Other fantasies include death by lightning and murder by rat poison. This kind of thinking drew me away from sympathizing with Kat, and, frankly, made me worry for her.
As the story's antagonist, Aunt Paulina is too much of a caricature to be a good villain. She drinks Jack Daniels like it's going out of style, wears mink coats, tight up do's, and pearls. This description is much like other money loving villains in literature. After reading her description a reader could easily be reminded of 101 Dalmations' Cruella DeVil plotting to get those spotted puppies.
However, Aunt Paulina becomes a relatable character. Instead of hating her, I found myself thinking I could very well be the same awkward caretaker if left with someone else's child.
The book has very dark moments, including Kat's recollection of her father abusing her mother. Shimko shows great compassion while writing these parts, where she could have possibly gone off the deep end with the details. She instead makes the reader understand Kat's mother's reasons for staying with this man. It was these parts of the story that may hold clues to Kat's dark and twisted thoughts.
Shimko is a gifted story teller, but her choice of heroine and villain fail to fulfill my high hopes. The two characters are never convincing enough to determine either their goodness or evilness (although, perhaps this makes the characters true to life). Instead of being the sweet, hurt girl, Kat turns into a possible sociopath, and Aunt Paulina is just another sad, lonely, drunk, middle aged woman.
One of Shimko's greatest gifts is for writing fluidly. The words run together almost like a great conversation. Flowing from point to point without stalling, it is easy to follow and moves like a song's rhythm. Even with its flaws the book comes across as a fun beach read for the younger crowd. This book is not for everyone, but young women with a mind for poetry and a need to walk on the dark side of life will find this enjoyable.
From: Harcourt, Inc.
Information about the author can be found at:
Also by Shimko:
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