Cashore, Kristin. Graceling. New York: Harcourt Children's Books, 2008. ISBN: 015206396X. $17.
Plot: In the world of this novel the first book of three, there are people called Gracelings, born with special skills, called graces. Katsa's grace is that she is a killer. Surprisingly, she has become enslaved to a cruel king who uses her to torture his enemies. Easily identified by having two different colored eyes, Gracelings, though blessed with such amazing powers as laser vision or hearing people's thoughts, are not worshipped, they are shunned. Though powerful, they are usually used as tools. Katsa meets her match when, on a secret goodwill mission, she encounters Po, another killer Graceling, and the only person who can stand up to her in a fight -- thus kicking off a rich and romantic fantasy.
Critical Evaluation: In this first book of the Cashore’s Graceling trilogy, the author has dipped into classic tropes from comic books and fantasy novels (the heroic outcast, the medieval-like setting) and created something entirely original. With intense action and suspense, a well-crafted plot, and richly detailed settings, Graceling is pure pleasure to read. Katsa is an ornery, tough, thoroughly likable character and a wonderfully strong female protagonist, literally and figuratively. Her love-hate relationship with Poe creates tension and drama, but it is also humorous at times, in a good way. Katsa is like a caged animal, desperate to get out; Poe is gentle, but he’s no pushover. Together, they are one of the most magnetic couples in recent young adult literature. The fact that Katsa is on a mission seems secondary to the journey, which is one of thrills and life-threatening adversity. Although the stakes of the central conflict (saving a kingdom from an evil, all-powerful dictator) isn't as enthralling as the love-hate romance, Cashore takes readers on a rich journey that is full of surprises.
Reader's annotation: A girl, graced at birth with the power to kill, needs to get out from under a horrible king to save a kingdom from ruin. The she meets another killer, a boy, and she may have met her match.
Author Bio: Kristin Cashore grew up in a rural area of Pennsylvania, where she read constantly. She eventually went to Williams College (a difficult experience for her) and then to Simmons for their Children’s Literature graduate writing program.
Graceling was her debut novel, followed by the equally lauded Fire and then, most recently, Bitterblue.
Booktalking Ideas: Focus on Katsa's powers and her life as an enslaved outcast desperate to break free.
Talk about the romance -- the love/hate set up is one that teens will enjoy.
Discuss the suspense and the journey and the powers of the gracelings -- the different types of powers that they may have (sometimes unsure about their exact "grace") is part of the mystery of the book.
Reading Level/Interest Age: 14+
Curriculum Ties: N/A
Challenge Issues: Although some may be bothered by the sexual content of the book, there is really only one scene and it is extremely short and not graphic in any way. For any challenge, know the content of the book well and keep a file of positive reviews, of which there are many.
Why Included: Although she can kill, Katsa can do much more. It is about getting out from under someone else's controlling grip; about a disenfranchised girl finding her true power.