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Keeper

Review

Keeper

written by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by August Hall

"Take a deep, dark night.
Take a small, small boat.
Take a lucky-charm girl.
Take a bent-winged seagull.
Take a rushing tide.
Take a big blue moon.
Add it all up.
What do you get?"

Well, in addition to the answer provided in KEEPER ("One scared dog. That's what."), you also get a pretty amazing novel. Kathi Appelt's follow-up to her Newbery Honor Book, THE UNDERNEATH, is a thoughtful, lyrical, hopeful ode to love of all kinds: the loves we recognize but can't name, the loves we rely on but don't appreciate, the loves between lovers, between parents and children, between people and animals.

KEEPER is a sophisticated novel, focusing mainly on the events of a single transformative night in the lives of a little girl and her family, told primarily through flashbacks. It was supposed to be a perfect evening for 10-year-old Keeper, a blue moon (a second full moon in a single calendar month), an excuse for Keeper's stepmother Signe to make her blue moon gumbo, for Signe's shy friend Dogie to sing her his two-word song, "Marry me," for Keeper to see her two favorite adults in the world happy, in love and together. But when Keeper seems to get a mysterious message from the crabs that are on deck to be the key ingredient in Signe's gumbo, her rescue mission sets off a chain reaction of disaster that derails the perfect evening entirely and sends her off on a potentially disastrous journey.

When Keeper is sad and scared and disappointed in herself, she thinks of her mother, Meggie Maggie, who disappeared when the little girl was just three. Keeper is convinced her mom is a mermaid who lives on the sandbar near the shore of their tiny south Texas community. So, her pockets filled with the tiny mermaid charms carved for her by a kindly old friend, Keeper and her dog BD (Best Dog) set off in the rowboat, hoping that by locating Meggie Maggie, Keeper can find her inner mermaid, her mother, and the answers to all her problems.

Keeper might not be able to see the danger that lurks around the edges of her plan, but BD sure can, and the dog's love for the girl shines through the novel just as brightly as that big full moon in the sky. As Keeper, set adrift on the lonely sea, thinks about the disastrous day that has passed, readers will also come to see just how much unconditional love surrounds the girl.

Just as love infuses every lyrical page of KEEPER, so does magic. Even if the kind of magic Keeper discovers is not the sort she had imagined or anticipated, even if her definitions of mermaids and mothers need to change, magic ordinary and profound still surrounds her and keeps her safe. With its deliberate pacing, gentle rhythms and complex narrative structure, KEEPER is a challenging novel, but a rewarding one as well, a lovely read-aloud for parents and children to share on the blue moon or any time at all.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 18, 2010

Keeper
written by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by August Hall

  • Publication Date: May 18, 2010
  • Genres: Mythology
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 1416950605
  • ISBN-13: 9781416950615