Sorry I've been somewhat MIA this week. I am still looking for a job, but I've managed to figure out what laptop I'm buying. (Don't know if I've mentioned it hear, but my laptop has been in death throes for two months. I've been sneaking time on shared computers.)
By Kathi Appelt
Illustrated by August Hall
Available now from Simon & Schuster (Athenum)
I promised I'd review more middle grade fiction and I'm keeping that promise. I first became aware of Kathi Appelt last year, when THE UNDERNEATH received the Newberry Honor Award. I haven't read it yet, unfortunately, but I did jump at my chance to read KEEPER, a novel about a ten-year-old Texas girl who believes in magic.
It was supposed to be a wonderful day for Keeper, her guardian Signe, and the other residents of Oyster Ridge Road - Dogie and Mr. Beauchamp. But everything went wrong, and now Keeper slips out while everyone is sleeping to find her mermaid mother Meggie Marie with BD (Best Dog) and Captain (a watermelon-loving seagull). KEEPER is postmodern magical realism for kids.
But as an adult, it's a fairly harrowing reading experience. Like the narrator, an adult reader knows the danger of a young girl alone in a boat catching the outgoing tide. Unlike Keeper, the adult reader doesn't believe the mermaids will be waiting. Yet as intense as the sense of danger could be, Appelt keeps everything on a slow boil.
She slips into a variety of POVs - all animal and human characters get their say. She also slips back and forth in time, all the way back to old Mr. Beauchamp's young love in Paris. (Her matter-of-fact treatment of homosexuality is welcome and appropriate to the age group.) Her language is lyrical and lulling, obscuring the dark undercurrent, much like the sea that is integral to KEEPER's story.
I also love the illustrations by August Hall. They're simple and bold. My favorite may be the fist time we see Signe, young and fierce. Hall illustrates a nice mix of dramatic and intimate moments, which contributes to the tone of the novel, which remains calm no matter how badly things go wrong.
Most middle grade books don't end in senseless tragedy, so I wondered how Appelt could reach a satisfying end. But she does, without betraying the characters or the story. If you're looking for action and adventure, KEEPER might not be the best choice. But it's still a good summer read that will make you long for a nice bowl of gumbo.