Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Happiness is...a good book (Summer Reading edition #32)

Author: Katherine Longshore
Published: 2012
Pages: 404
Age Range: 14+
Genre: Historical Fiction
Cover Score: * (it’s pretty but rather generic and has no direct connection to what goes on in the story)
Overall Score: ***
Rating: PG-13
First Sentence: You’re not going to steal anything.

This it the fictionalized story of Catherine Howard’s rise and fall from Henry VIII’s graces and the throne as told through the eyes of her best friend Katherine Tylney.

Abandoned by her family when she is 8 and given to the household of the Duchess of Norfolk (Catherine’s step-grandmother) she is pitied by Cat and taken under her wing. And she’s never given a chance to look back. Knowing that she is nothing and has nothing she bows to Cat’s whims, lies for her, covers for her, does anything that is asked of her in order to keep her favor. Together they fantasize about one day living at court, wearing fine clothes and having any man they desire. Cat is serious while Kitty is just along for the ride, aware that she is too tall, too plain to ever have those kinds of chances. But when Cat catches the eye of Henry’s entourage and is taken to court she promises she’ll bring Kitty with her.

She eventually makes good on her promise and Kitty finds herself ensconced in lies and secrets, keeping Cat’s romantic dalliances and exploits from the king and falling into her old patterns of doing anything Cat wishes in order to keep her favor. But Cat doesn’t return the favor and when things don’t suit her needs she finds someone else to do her bidding and knows just how to hurt Kitty for spite.
Struck by the attention of two very different men Kitty finally begins to see the truth behind Cat’s actions and realizes she never makes her own decisions or thinks for herself but by now it’s too late. Or is it?

While Kitty is the main character the story is most often dominated by Cat. Kitty is a very weak character constantly overpowered by a much stronger one. We see Kitty’s turmoil emotionally but not until the end do we get to see her take a stand and make some choices on her own, though even then they are governed by her guilt and her conscience. Cat is calculating and manipulative to the very end. She’s petulant and childish, selfish and self-absorbed. Her lies and intrigues brought ruin to herself and those around her. The following dialogue gives you a perfect picture of her personality:

“Well, any gentleman you encounter will be. Impressed, that is.”
“But will the king?” she cried, exasperated. “I want him to look at me and to see that I’m different! That I’m not just another maid-in-waiting.”
“What do you want from him, Cat?” I asked. “He’s already getting married.”
“Whoever said I needed marriage?”
“Wait a minute. Are you trying to tell me that this whole act is so that you can be a mistress to the king? A fat, aging man with an ego the size of France and a temper the size of the Roman Empire?”
“I don’t know!” she huffed. “Maybe I just want someone to notice me!”

Some of the dialogue felt too modern but it was consistent throughout and will most likely not be something noticed by its teen audience and it does flow a bit better when you remember that they were only teenagers at the time (early 20s at most, history disputes Catherine Howard’s birth date.) There is an author’s note with some of the facts and fictions distinguished where possible but it could use a bit more; a timeline or cast of characters perhaps?

There is a lot of discussion of sex, a rape scene and other violence against women but it is not graphic. Just know your audience before you hand it out! It’s a rather engrossing characterization of one of Henry’s ill-fated wives that helps bring history to life. Hand it to teens who want some drama but are through with the paranormal fantasies or want a change from modern-day realistic fiction.

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