Friday, October 1, 2010

Keeper by Kathi Appelt

The first thing I experienced when reading Keeper was frustration. I found the start agonizingly slow. It bounced back and forth between Keeper waiting for the tide to come in (and waiting and waiting…and waiting…and then waiting some more) back to what led her to get in the boat in the first place. And what led her to get into the boat isn’t fully revealed until almost 200 pages. I feel torn about this. On the one hand not revealing it all at once added to the suspense and kept the story moving, on the other hand I was left feeling like Keeper was majorly overreacting for a large chunk of the story. Feeling like that made it hard for me to understand or empathize with her decisions (you know because I spent my time wondering why she was being such an idiot).

At the same time the narrative switches off between characters and these characters include an elderly man, a seagull, some dogs, and other important adults. That part I loved. It added sweet perspectives and some magic into a story that at its heart is about a girl coming to terms with her absent mother.

There is a lot of repetition going on in this book. Not only do we get scenes replayed, becoming fuller and longer bit by bit, but we also get phrases (“the world unto itself” is one) repeated throughout the story. Appelt is really playing with language here. Alliteration and rhythm are ever present. It gives the book a real sense of place and an identifiable style.

At the end we have a breakthrough moment where Keeper dredges up a memory of her mother that is equally heartbreaking and infuriating. We learn the truth of Keeper’s mother as well as how Keeper got her unusual name. Possible spoilers ==> what I wondered is did she really not have a name for 3 years of her life? Seriously? They just had pet names for her? I find this hard to believe. And is Keeper her real name or another pet name (and if it’s a pet name it seems like a hella weird choice). Those thoughts led me to ones on whether or not Keeper even has a birth certificate which is certainly outside the scope of this story. Anyhow, with respect to drama, Keeper’s name scores an A, it was a very dramatic scene and I choked up reading it, but it was definitely problematic for me.<== End of spoilers. In the end, I did enjoy this book. I loved the shifting perspectives, the beautiful use of language. I loved how the story was resolved for Keeper, but perhaps even more so for Dogie and Signe and for Mr. Beauchamp. Everything is tied up nicely, but it feels right. It feels like this is where they were headed from the beginning and they’ve finally caught up to where they are supposed to be.

More Spoilers ==> Was I disappointed that her mother wasn't a mermaid? Maybe a little. But I did sort of love how mermaids were real, even if her mother was just a crappy mother. <== end of spoilers.


Book Source: Library Copy


DogEar said...

joanna: I just LOVED Touch Blue and recommended it for our system's Mock Newbery.
Patti: I also think the committee will look at this one, but frankly, I thought The Underneath was more of a standout book. Speaking of crappy moms, this is the second book on our list with one (One Crazy Summer being the other!).

joanna said...

(FYI - I deleted my first comment b/c I felt guilty about spoiling a bit too much.)


I share several of your comments about this book. At first I really didn't like it and got tired waiting to get to some action. I stalled out and started reading another book. I wasn't one of those super huge fans of The Underneath in part due to the several narratives (and also I seem to not be an animal book person). This one, however, I ended up liking quite a bit. I thought the different narratives worked better this time and were easier to follow. I also liked the repetition - especially stupid crabs.

I almost gave up on one of the stories when it appeared that a character was to never to find love again. But, then came in the fantasy part and I did end up liking that story afterall.

I also wondered the whole book what in the world Keeper's real name could be.

Fans of this book should check out Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord (Aug 2010/Scholastic). It has lobsters instead of crabs. And more humor. But also a girl in a boat coming of age.

joanna said...

DogEar - I really enjoyed Touch Blue and I'm a little sad that it won't be in our Mock Newbery. I loved the humor of the lobster fishermen talking to each other on their radios.

AND speaking of yet another sea tale - there's Jennifer Holm's TURTLE IN PARADISE which I also thought was utterly charming. This year's theme? Beach stories?