White Cat, by Holly Black
“Here’s the essential truth about me: I killed a girl when I was fourteen. Her name was Lila, she was my best friend, and I loved her. I killed her anyway.”
This noir fantasy for teenagers, first in an ongoing series, has a great mafia-with-a-twist setup. Curse workers can change your emotions, alter your memories, tweak your luck, and in rare cases, kill you stone dead with the touch of a bare hand. Thus, the gloves. Everyone wears them, all the time, even though workers are actually pretty rare—maybe one in a thousand people. Illegal since the 1930s, curse working has gone underground, and most workers are associated with organized crime.
Cassel Sharpe is the only non-worker in a worker family, and the only one trying to go straight (-ish), which is tough when you’ve been raised by con artists. But Cassel has good reason not to draw attention to himself, because of all the grifters and mobsters in his family, he’s actually hiding the deadliest crime.
There’s a satisfying mystery to be unraveled here, but the real payoff of the story is in Cassel’s layered, complicated relationship with his family: his mother, awaiting trial for her latest gold-digging swindle; his grandfather, whose hand is withered and blackened as a side effect of the death curses he’s dealt. His brothers are lying, conniving pieces of work, but they’re the only ones Cassel can trust, because they’re family, right? And family watch out for each other.
Sure they do.
Holly Black works in the background details—history, politics, slang—that give this alternate reality depth. There’s some physical violence, but mostly the violence is in watching Cassel get emotionally yanked around by, oh, everybody. (The best—and creepiest—part of the setup, for me, is that Cassel’s mother is an emotion worker. When Mama Sharpe tells her boys to love each other, she’s not kidding around. She can make you.)
Check the WRL catalog for White Cat.
It ends with a punch, so you may want to have the second book, Red Glove, ready.