A young girl secretly takes on the rebellion before the war.
Publisher: Tribute Books
Age: Young Adult
First Published: 2008
Date Reviewed: 24th September 2010
When I was asked to join the blog tour for Call Me Kate, saying “yes” was easy. Having read recently about the creation of the United States, but knowing nothing about the issues faced by the Irish, the idea of adding to my knowledge interested me greatly.
Katie McCafferty lives with her family in the newly created United States, but their Irish heritage does not permit them the same freedoms granted other Americans, and they are forced to live in a community with other Irish families, mining for coal. The mines are dangerous places – the owners not caring if they lose workers to avalanches – and slowly the Irish people have come to form unions. Those in power want them to join the war but why should they when they are treated as second-class citizens?
The first thing that struck me about Call Me Kate was the chapter list – yes, something before the story! Roe has made a big effort to title all chapters with words beginning with “C”. There are only three that don’t begin this way but they do have a word beginning with the letter somewhere in their title. For a book with twenty-two chapters I reckon that’s pretty damn awesome.
The book is very short and unfortunately this means that a lot of detail is invariably missed out. Dialogue is preferred in favour of description and scenes move from one to the other without time to get your bearings, the chapters themselves don’t feature the subtle gaps that most books do. All this means that the story moves far too quickly, never staying in one place long enough, it’s as though author only had a couple of days in which to write it. The narrative is at times melodramatic, caused in part by the plenty dialogue. Because of Katie’s age the scene where a few tragedies happen at once seems unrealistic and more akin to a soap-opera storyline, no matter how realistic it actually is.
But despite this the novel manages to pack some great issues into its slim width. It brings to mind issues that were at the forefront of Lisa See’s On Gold Mountain, where the reader can’t but find the whole set up of infant America ridiculous. The Irish were treated as nasty immigrants, but wasn’t the majority of the population made up of immigrants? And there was a lot of awful prejudice against the native people but it’s absurd how the white Americans, a great number not being many generations from born and bred British themselves, thought that the Irish shouldn’t be allowed. Many of them probably had Irish ancestors.
Something that really makes you think is the opinion of the Irish, and this links in to the way the Americans treated them. In many respects you have to concede that the Americans had a point in wanting to keep the Irish out – because the Americans had got there first and you can understand that they might have been worried about resources being taken from them (consider the current issues of immigration in Britain). However, the Americans treated the Irish like dirt and had no intention of giving citizenship to those who fought for the country – so it is with that said that the situation was wrong. And you can’t forget that previously the Americans had taken the land from the natives anyway.
Roe’s character, and the narrator of the book, is a fourteen-year-old female. Katie is a strong character and Roe has portrayed her brilliantly. You must approach this book remembering her age because it atones for a lot of the simplistic style of writing in the book. Having a female as the main character also makes the story more fictional and thus less open to dispute about historical accuracy because of the point of view allowed by society for Katie to see. The problem with a female lead in this situation refers to that point of view – you don’t get to read about as much of the action and atrocities that went on. Of course you do read about them because Katie sees the wounded, hears the news, but it feels as though Roe’s research hasn’t been able to flourish. While Katie is a great character, Roe appears to have a lot more information to impart, and I for one would love to read a book by her written about the same era and from a character possessing more first-hand experience, a character like Con, for instance.
I couldn’t help but compare Call Me Kate to Celia Ree’s Sovay. In both the main characters are strong but Katie definitely shines over Sovay for her more realistic qualities.
Something that I hope Roe will continue to focus on, because she can be very inventive, is the use of similes. As an example, here is a quote that stands out:
I was as jumpy as a rasher of bacon on a hot griddle.
The book improves in the last several pages, including more descriptions, but the end is too sudden. As a debut Call Me Kate is good, but Roe needs to work further on the difference between compiling fact and being a novelist because while it’s in recounting historical fact that her talent lies chiefly, there’s no reason why her creations in future should not be first-rate.
I received this book for review from Tribute Books.
October 14, 2010, 3:17 pm
Charlie – thank you for a great review. I appreciate your enthusiasm for wanting to be a part of the blog tour.
I like when a blogger makes reference to other books in a review because it never fails to add new titles to my to-read list. I will certainly be adding ‘On Gold Mountain’ and ‘Sovay’ to mine.
I think you made quite an interesting suggestion about wanting to hear the story from Con’s point of view. I think that’s a great idea!
Again, we appreciate your support of the book and for sharing ‘Call Me Kate’ with your blog readers.
Charlie: No worries, I enjoyed it, and count me in for any of her future releases! Glad that you found more titles for your TBR, I like to make comparisons and connections between books because, as it has with you here, it can often introduce people to work they’ve not heard of. And I like making connections between famous and not where there is a connection to add more interest.
I thought Con was a great character and right in the middle of everything; I’m wondering if Roe left him at the end in the way she did on a sequel-like purpose.
October 14, 2010, 10:55 pm
Your site got a makeover too! Looks great! I especially like the glowy purple around the letters up top. And the addition of the GR button, especially, since it’s hard to find people on there otherwise :-)
It sounds like this author is one to watch! Your point about a female character in this sort of novel missing out on the action is really interesting, especially in relation to how it allows the author’s research to be incorporated. It would definitely be interesting for her to take a male perspective on the same / a similar story.
Charlie: Thanks! I had to make the GR button, couldn’t find one anywhere in that kind of style which was odd.
Yeah, I’m starting to rethink quite a few novels now, not so much that they should be changed but about how much information is missed by the character being female. And it’s interesting how film does it from both angles.