Thursday, August 19, 2010

Keeper, by Kathi Appelt - a mesmerizing, beautiful story (ages 9 - 13

Once in a while, I read a book that pulls me into a different world and wraps me the threads of its characters' stories. Keeper, by Kathi Appelt, is a mesmerizing, beautiful story that is one of the very best books I've read in a long time. It would make a wonderful family read-aloud, with many themes or issues to talk about and beautiful writing to enjoy.
by Kathi Appelt
illustrations by August Hall
NY: Atheneum / Simon & Schuster, 2010
available on Amazon and at your local library
Ten-year-old Keeper has had a terrible day. Everything went wrong, and it was a blue moon - it was supposed to be a perfect, extra-special day. But no, the stupid crabs ruined everything.

But Keeper has a plan - she will set things right. Her mermaid mother will know just what to do, if only she can find her. Then all will be right in this small part of the Texas coast, Keeper's world all unto itself. So Keeper and B.D. (Best Dog) climb into a small row boat and let the tide pull them out into the Gulf to the sandbar where Keeper is convinced her mother will find her.

This is a complex, layered story that weaves flashbacks to flesh out the stories of each resident of Oyster Ridge Road, a small fictional town on the Gulf coast of Texas. Keeper's mother left when Keeper was three, and Signe has been raising her ever since. Dogie, their neighbor and good friend, runs a surf shop out of his bus. He's a war vet who has been in love with Signe for ten years. And Mr. Beauchamp, a man as old as barnacles, is waiting for a wish to come true. Appelt draws the threads of each of these characters, sharing their flashbacks and memories, as they deal with the disappointments of this blue moon night.

There's a note in the final acknowledgments that stuck with me. Diane Linn asked Kathi Appelt to "consider heartbreak over anger." That's a weighty sentiment, and it shines through this wonderful book. Each character wrestled with their pain and heartbreak, but each comes through because they don't succumb to anger. And the people and animals in this small corner of the universe turn to those they love to find their strength and grounding.

I also loved the nontraditional family that comes together in this story. It felt completely natural, one that children will be drawn to. Dogie and Signe's love is inter-racial, and that is not an issue at all. And Mr. Beauchamp recalls his poignant love for another boy many years ago, when they were both 15. Ms. Appelt does a wonderful job drawing these relationships in a subtle, but heartfelt way.

I'm concerned that students will find the complex structure difficult, but I firmly believe it's important to share all types of stories with students - not just straightforward, action-driven plots, but also stories that weave together many strands to make a complex tapestry. Even more importantly, it's important not to underestimate what kids can absorb. Let them ask questions, let them know it's OK to muddle through, but encourage them to read stories that speak to them. And Keeper will speak to kids. She's an authentic character, a kid full of hopes and fears, a kid who's determined to try to fix things all by herself, a kid who knows about the moon and the tides but who also firmly believes in mermaids and magic.

Would you like to read the first few chapters? Head over to Google Books to give it a try.

Other reviews:
Brenda at proseandkahn: "Charming and memorable... Keeper begs to be discussed at any age."
Betsy Bird at Fuse #8: "Where The Underneath examined hate and bitterness, Keeper is about love, family, and forgiveness."

Many thanks to my good friend, Kathy Shepler, librarian extraordinaire at Aurora School, for recommending Keeper. The review copy came from Amazon, paid for by support from readers through the Amazon Associate program - thank you so much. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). This enables us to purchase more new books to review. Thank you for your support!

1 comment:

  1. I loved this one too--I reviewed it on Amazon and Goodreads but not on my blog. It sure has divided opinions--some people (like us) love it and others really hated it! I'd be interested in whether kids are liking it or not. I thought it was one of the most beautiful novels of the year.