Keeper by Kathi Appelt

I will be up-front with you all- Kathi and I had coffee when she was last in NJ and I consider her a friend (albeit a friend who lives in Texas.  :) ) However, that did not affect my view of her latest book. (Kathi and I met after I reviewed The Underneath and I fell in love with her writing.)

I admit I was reluctant to pick up her newest novel, Keeper. I loved, loved, loved her Newbery Honor winning book, The Underneath; I was its biggest champion. When I received my review copy (courtesy of Ms. Appelt and the publisher), I put it on my shelf and kept moving it down in my pile. I was so afraid that nothing could live up to the beauty that was The Underneath.

Well there was no reason for me to worry- Keeper is a stunning book.  STUNNING.  It is poetry, prose, magic, fairy tale, and real life wrapped into one.  I think it will appeal to readers across the board.  The entire story takes place over the course of one short day, but with flashbacks to different points in the characters’s lives.  I love how Appelt doesn’t hesitate to toss perspective around like a beach ball.  Most of the book is told from Keeper’s viewpoint, but at times Signe tells the story, Dogie steps in, and even the animals get their chance to share.  The chapters are short, which kept me reading.  However, Kathi’s signature cadence is here, which may frustrate some readers.  The plot is not action-filled but rather ebbs and flows like the waves on the shore.  However, the story does take place over the course of one day, so it never slows to a stop.

This is a beach book.  As I was reading I could practically feel the sand beneath my toes and smell the saltwater in the air.  Appelt has drawn a world that readers immediately fall into, head over heels, like  Alice into the rabbit hole.  Reading this homage to the Gulf and Gulf coast I couldn’t help but feel sadness for what it is going through right now.  This book is especially apropos given the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico right now.  I already ached for the people and nature affected, but Kathi Appelt made me fall in love with a place I have never even been and now my heart breaks even more.

The illustrations in this book are gorgeous, too.  They complement Appelt’s text perfectly and I found myself drawn to them. (And I am not an illustrations person at all.)  Hall’s illustrations matched my own visions of the characters perfectly.  Which leads me to the characters- you will fall in love with them all.  I do think there will be some shocked parents out there, though.  Old Mr. Beauchamp has spent his entire life missing his love.  He frequently sits back and remembers the 15 year old boy named Jack that he met briefly in France, before setting sail on the seas.  I admit I was a caught off-guard but only because the relationships I see are almost always heterosexual in mainstream children’s literature.  Mr. Beauchamp’s love is pure and beautiful and he brought a tear to my eye more than once…I am thrilled that a tale like this is being told in a middle grade novel and that it is presented without fanfare or shock and awe.

This is a book about nontraditional families and the importance of family.  It is about the Gulf and the nature that is a part of it.  It is about friendship and heartbreak.  It is about mermaids and legends of the sea, dolphins and stingrays.  But most importantly, it is a simple store about the complicatedness of love.  And it’s on my shortlist for the Newbery.

*There are portions of this book that I would pull out and share on their own, like the chapters devoted to the stingrays.  They are just that gorgeous.

*review copy courtesy of the publisher

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