Review: Keeper by Kathi Appelt
Every time I set my mind to reviewing Keeper, the latest from Newbery-honor-winning author Kathi Appelt (The Underneath) my thoughts always seem to align in groups of three. I think I’ll keep it that way.
Three sentences that help describe Keeper:
1. Keeper is 10 years old and lives on a quiet road outside a small town on the Gulf of Mexico.
2. She was abandoned by her mother, Meggie Marie, when she was three.
3. She believes Meggie Marie is a mermaid.
Three main (human) characters (besides Keeper):
1. Signe. Keeper’s caretaker.
2. Dogie. A veteran of a war that left him with a stutter, Dogie runs a small surfshop out of a yellow schoolbus. He has spent a long time working up the courage to ask Signe to marry him.
3. Mr. Beauchamp. Much of Keeper’s belief in mer stories comes from this quiet old neighbor. His backstory, which is slowly revealed, shows that there is good reason for this.
Three main (animal) characters:
1. BD. “Best Dog” and trusted companion to Keeper.
2. Captain. A gull healed by Signe after crashing into their house.
3. 10 crabs. Well, I guess this doesn’t qualify as one character, but never mind that. Keeper’s need to set a tubful of crabs free before being boiled is what sets the entire story into motion.
The plot in three parts:
1. Our story begins on the day of a blue moon. It has all the makings for a night to remember. Signe is making blue moon gumbo as Dogie practices the song (question) he plans to sing (ask) her later that night – “Marry Me” – on his ukulele.
2. Everything goes haywire and Keeper finds herself at the root of it all. Signe’s gumbo – ruined. Dogie’s ukulele – broken. Not to mention the pots of Mr. Beauchamp’s beloved cyrus plants that got smashed.
3. In order to set things right, Keeper hatches a plan: head into the Gulf in Dogie’s boat, find her mother, and ask her how to make everything right. Events do not go as planned as the reader slowly unravels the mystery of Meggie Marie.
Three types of reader who will like it:
1. The reader who delights in the unique. While Keeper is a bit more accessible than Appelt’s previous work, The Underneath, its slowly simmering plot and changes in perspective still don’t read like much else out there.
2. The reader who is up for a good love story. Dogie’s long-overdue declaration of love to Signe leaves readers in suspense up until the last pages.
3. The reader who loves them some mer. The mermaid elements will pull in readers with an interest in these mythical creatures.
Three types of reader who might not like it:
1. The elements described above may serve to make Keeper a hard sell for your average boy reader. Just sayin’.
2. The reader who doesn’t abide repetition, a device that Appelt uses liberally here.
3. The reader who has trouble making making the jump from the realistic to mystical. Appelt asks the reader to make this jump, particularly with the mer elements incorporated into the storyline.
Unfortunately, I embody shades of all three of these, which leads me to …
Three opinions about Keeper:
1. It is clearly one of the most expertly written middle grade books of 2010.
2. And while it’s not necessarily my top choice …
3. … Keeper deserves to grace best-of-the-year lists far and wide. Fans of The Underneath will fall in love again.
Review copy from library.
Listen to an audio excerpt from Keeper:
Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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