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. ¬†ūüôā ) 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