Curses and cons. Magic and the mob. In Cassel Sharpe's world, they go together. Cassel always thought he was an ordinary guy, until he realized his memories were being manipulated by his brothers. Now he knows the truth—he’s the most powerful curse worker around. A touch of his hand can transform anything—or anyone—into something else.
That was how Lila, the girl he loved, became a white cat. Cassel was tricked into thinking he killed her, when actually he tried to save her. Now that she's human again, he should be overjoyed. Trouble is, Lila's been cursed to love him, a little gift from his emotion worker mom. And if Lila's love is as phony as Cassel's made-up memories, then he can't believe anything she says or does.
When Cassel's oldest brother is murdered, the Feds recruit Cassel to help make sense of the only clue—crime-scene images of a woman in red gloves. But the mob is after Cassel too—they know how valuable he could be to them. Cassel is going to have to stay one step ahead of both sides just to survive. But where can he turn when he can't trust anyone—least of all, himself?
Love is a curse and the con is the only answer in a game too dangerous to lose.
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A Reading Group Guide to
White Cat and Red Glove of The Curse Workers Series
by Holly Black
About White Cat
Cassel comes from a family of curse workers—people who have the power to change a person’s emotions, memories, or luck with the slightest touch of the hand. And since curse work is illegal, they’re all criminals. Many become mobsters and con artists, but not Cassel. He hasn’t got magic, so he’s an outsider—the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail—he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago. Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts to crumble when he finds himself sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat. He’s noticed other disturbing things too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him. As Cassel begins to suspect he’s part of a huge con game, he must unravel his past and his memories. To find out the truth, Cassel must outcon the conmen.
The starting point for White Cat was the fairy tale of that name, written by Madame d’Aulnoy. Ask readers to read the fairy tale and then see what they can find in it that relates to what happens with Cassel and Lila. Or ask them to read the fairy tale and analyze what it says about love and trust.
Discussion Questions for White Cat
Why doesn’t Cassel want to call for help?
What does Cassel see in his dream about the white cat?
Cassel says, “They’re wondering if I’ve been worked. Cursed. It’s not that big a secret that my grandfather was a death worker for the Zacharov family.” What does this reveal about Cassel and his family?
Who does Cassel say he murdered?
Why does Cassel spend most of his time at school “faking and lying”?
What kind of bookie operation does Cassel run at Wallingford?
Why can’t Cassel tell Sam that he needs the money he makes?
What did Cassel’s mother teach him about the basics of the con and curse work?
Cassel says, “For me the curse is a crutch, but the con is everything.” How is that different from how his mother thinks of the curse and con?
What is the difference Cassel says is between him and his mother?
What are two reasons Cassel says kids come to Wallingford? Why did Barron want Cassel to go there? What does Cassel think of Wallingford?
What is HEX, and what is Daneca Wasserman’s connection to it? Why does Daneca want Cassel to meet her mother?
What is the meaning of HBG?
How would you describe Cassel's relationships with his brothers, Barron and Philip?
Why will Cassel always be an outsider in his family?
What does Audrey suggest could have been the cause of Cassel’s sleepwalking?
What happens in the second dream Cassel has about the white cat?
What makes Cassel think of Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Tell-Tale Heart"?
What is ironic about Cassel’s nightmares about Lila?
When did Cassel realize he had a talent for crime?
What is an onomasticon? Why is Cassel concerned for the book about it that’s in the library?
Do you agree with Cassel when he says, “All friendships are negotiations of power"? What do you think he means?
What do you think about what Cassel has to say about the unreliability of memory?
When are the only times that Cassel says “he felt safe”?
What does Cassel discover on Barron’s laptop?
What does Cassel realize about Lila?
What are the four different kinds of memory curse?
What about the white cat’s eyes reminds Cassel of Lila?
What does Cassel mean when he says, “That’s something worth making me forget”?
Where does the term “worker” come from? Why is curse work legal in Australia?
What kind of worker does Cassel realize he is? How does he feel about it?
Why do Anton, Barron, and Philip want Cassel to turn Zacharov’s heart to stone?
What happens when Cassel touches the gun?
Why doesn’t Lila want anyone to know about her return? Why doesn’t she want her father to know what happened to her?
What was Barron’s excuse for wanting to get rid of Lila?
How did Cassel’s brothers use him to get rid of people?
Why is Barron envious of Cassel?
What does Cassel know about the Resurrection Diamond?
Post Reading Activities In her acknowledgements, Holly Black cites Simon Lovell’s How to Cheat at Everything as a book she researched to write this story. Have readers visit Lovell’s website www.simonlovell.com/. There are links to interviews and clips of television appearances in which Lovell discusses his life as a con man.
Ask readers to use print and electronic resources to research dream symbolism and to see if they can locate any mention of the significance of white cats in dreams. When they have completed their research, have readers share their findings. About Red Glove
Curses and cons. Magic and the mob. In Cassel Sharpe’s world, they go together. Cassel always thought he was an ordinary guy until he realized his memories were being manipulated by his brothers. Now he knows the truth—he’s the most powerful curse worker around. A touch of his hand can transform anything—or anyone—into something else. That was how Lila, the girl he loved, became a white cat. Cassel was tricked into thinking he killed her, when actually he tried to save her. Now that she’s human again, he should be overjoyed. The trouble is that Lila’s now been cursed to love him. And if Lila’s love is as phony as Cassel’s made-up memories, he can't believe anything she says or does. When Cassel’s oldest brother is murdered, the Feds recruit Cassel to help solve the crime. But the mob is after him too, knowing how valuable he could be. Cassel is going to have to stay one step ahead of both sides just to survive. But where can he turn when he can’t trust anyone, least of all himself?
Ask readers to work in pairs and use print and electronic resources to research a famous con man or woman. One book readers may find helpful is Chris Barton’s Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities (Dial, 2011). Ask readers to create and stage a hypothetical con themselves based on their findings. Discussion Questions for Red Glove
What stories has Cassel’s mother been telling the girls who she hopes will make him forget Lila?
What makes Cassel realize his mother is right about guys wanting to be “knights in shining armor”?
Why does Cassel say that Lila’s feelings for him are a “perversion of love”?
What does Cassel think is hard about being a con artist?
What does it mean that Cassel tested positive as “hyperbathygammic”?
How is Philip killed?
What do Agents Hurt and Jones want from Cassel?
How does Cassel react to the revelation that Philip was an informant?
What do the agents say was Philip’s motive for informing? What is Cassel’s theory for why Philip turned informant? Which do you think is most plausible?
Why did Philip blame Cassel for making Maura leave town?
What does Agent Hurt say about the last person known to enter Philip’s apartment?
What does Zacharov say to make Cassel hate him more than ever?
Why does Zacharov invite Cassel to work for him?
Why does Cassel’s grandfather blame himself for Philip’s death?
What about the circumstances of Janssen’s death disturbs Cassel?
What is it like for Cassel to see people pulling off and discarding their gloves?
Why was Cassel afraid of Philip when he was alive?
What makes Cassel so certain that Lila did not kill Philip?
What does Cassel realize when he’s confronted with the reality that Lila will someday lead the Zacharov family?
What does Cassel find in his mother’s coat?
Why can’t Cassel allow himself to believe that Lila is not giving him any dreams?
What does Cassel experience as a cat?
What does Cassel want Daneca to do for him?
What does Cassel mean when he says Daneca was “trying to save me from myself”?
What does Cassel see when he removes Lila’s scarf? What is Cassel’s reaction to what he sees?
Lila’s last words to Cassel are “If you don't stay away from me, I'll make you sorry you were ever born.” Do you think Cassel will be able to stay away from Lila?
What do you think will happen in the next installment of The Curse Workers?
Post Reading Activity
Ask readers to locate at least three professional reviews of Red Glove and incorporate quotations, summarize, and paraphrase from them in their own critical assessment of the novel. Professional reviews are often posted on www.amazon.com. The school librarian should also be able to provide readers with professional reviews.
This guide was written by Edward T. Sullivan, a librarian and writer.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), the Modern Faerie Tales series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, The Darkest Part of the Forest, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare), and the Folk of the Air series. She has been a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award, a finalist for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of both an Andre Norton Award and a Newbery Honor. She lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door. Visit her at BlackHolly.com.
* "Black again delivers complex characters and a nicely developed alternate universe where magic workers are social pariahs. This powerful, edgy dark fantasy won't disappoint Black's fans."--Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Dark, disturbing fare, crafted by a master; readers of the trilogy's first will be supremely satisfied."--Kirkus Reviews
"Readers will be happy to slip back into Black’s elaborate, fascinating world of workers, curses, and the seeming ease with which everyone has learned to live in a world where no one, not even family, can be truly trusted, and this sequel offers satisfying additional glimpses into this nearly familiar but ultimately shockingly different world."--Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"The Curse Workers series continues to offer a sleek and stylish blend of urban fantasy and crime noir."--Booklist
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