Search on SLJ.com ....
Subscribe to SLJ
100 Scope Notes
Inside 100 Scope Notes

Book Review: The Underneath

theunderneath Book Review: The UnderneathThe Underneath
By Kathi Appelt
Illustrated by David Small
Atheneum
ISBN: 9781416950585
$16.99
Grades 4-6
In Stores

*Best New Books*

I’m a skeptical reviewer. I’m prone to be disappointed in the books I read if they don’t live up to my hopes. It’s a curse. Until I started hearing the rave reviews, “The Underneath” is not a book that I would typically be be inclined to pick up. I’m glad I put my prejudices aside. While there will be much deserved debate about its kid friendliness, to my 27 year old eyes this story is fantastic. Sure to cast a big shadow in the discussion when “Best Books of Aught 8″ lists start coming together. Destined to stick with you long after putting it down.

It’s appropriate that Louis Sachar is quoted on the cover – the twin story line format (one ancient, one current) of his outstanding “Holes” is also present in “The Underneath”. An abandoned calico cat is lured deep into the bayou by the baying of an old hound dog, Ranger. The dog’s tortured owner, Gar Face, an alcoholic, is obsessed with the hunt of an elusive 100 foot long alligator. The cat gives birth to two kittens (Sabine and Puck) underneath Gar Face’s porch. Eventually they are discovered and the family is split up. Meanwhile, in a clay jar buried deep underneath a dying tree lives Grandmother Moccasin, who has a story of her own that will come to affect the lives of our main characters.

It took me a while to fully buy in to this story. I went through the first half not knowing what to think. A little too “listen to the language of the trees” perhaps. At about the halfway point I was hooked. For the last third it was an absolute page turner. The ending is what any reader hopes for: thrilling and satisfying.

In “The Underneath” words aren’t just words, they’re physical matter. Words can be breathed in, coughed out, and they can roll you over. Words, and the emotions they embody, figure prominently in this story.

Does it suffer from children’s lit for adults syndrome? There is a possibility. The story’s poetic quality will be too lyrical for many young readers. The sophisticated style of its descriptions will require a sophisticated reader to appreciate them. That may throw some off, since so much of this tale is wrapped up in the language used. This one is for upper elementary, to be sure.

This much I know: you’ll be thinking about “The Underneath” for a while after you’ve turned the last page. Not many books do that. An outstanding novel.

Check out the book trailer

(Courtesy of the new and outstanding children’s lit blog Library Voice)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZ4Ds1Yub3Q]

Also reviewed by A Fuse #8 Production, A Year of Reading, Educating Alice, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Kids Lit.

Find this books at your local library with WorldCat.

share save 171 16 Book Review: The Underneath
About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.

Comments

  1. Mary Lee says:

    That’s a really good point about the connection between the structure of The Underneath and the structure of Holes! I hadn’t thought of that!

    So far, the only things that have disappointed me about this book are the illustrations and the trailer.

    • Jasleen says:

      Tailer?!?!
      and yea holes is a lot like this too huh…
      its funny cause holes was really good but i thought that the ending of the movie was really weak…oh well

  2. Scope Notes says:

    I say it’s a good way to put together a story. It makes it that much better when it all connects at the end. Long live the twin story line!

  3. Jasleen says:

    I really liked this book and I just wanted to say I read it when I was twelve. Not that important, but I just wanted to be called “sophisticated” cause i understood all of it. Plus i just wanted to say this book was beautiful. It’s so hard to put into words just how great it really is.

Speak Your Mind

*