By Cat Hellisen
Available now from Henry Holt & Co. (Macmillan)
I was instantly drawn to BEASTKEEPER by the beautiful cover. The stark silhouettes were foreboding, but the peachy glow invited me in. This short modern fable is a multi-generational "Beauty and the Beast" that explores the consequences of the revenge and just how difficult it is to achieve unconditional love.
The beginning of the story starts when Sarah's mom leaves. Her mom has never liked the winter, and leaves her husband and daughter when the winter catches up with her for the last time. Her father sinks into depression, leaving Sarah to explore the tiny patch of "woods" by their house and meet a strange boy. When he realizes he can no longer parent Sarah himself, he takes her to live with her grandmother, deep in an actual, wild wood.
I loved Sarah's optimism, the sort of faith that only a younger child has that they can make things right if they cross their t's, dot their i's, and just try hard enough. She also has a young, happy child's ease of bestowing trust, even though lately her life has gone quite awry. And I loved that it wasn't enough. Decades of hatred are not undone simply, nor painlessly.
Everything in BEASTKEEPER ties together rather neatly, each layer of the story unfolding to explain how disparate things slot together in unexpected ways. It's a tightly structured novel, which helps it get away with the fairytale logic that fuels the plot. Cat Hellisen's writing is lush but not purple, perfect for a harsh fairytale atmosphere.
It did not take me long to devour BEASTKEEPER; this is a true bite-sized delight for the adult reader. It's the perfect length for the middle grade audience, particularly those who are looking for another darker book to read after finishing CORALINE.