Skip to main content

“Keeper,” by Kathi Appelt

I’m curious about Kathi Appelt’s process in writing Keeper.

The book, which is one of my top choices for the Newbery Award, takes place in what I guess would be called an inlet along the Gulf Coast of Texas. And the story is told – for the most part – to the ebb and flow of the tide. We get forward moving action… the tide coming in. And we get background information… the tide going out. The forward action takes place mostly on the water. Our heroine, Keeper, is out to find her mother, Meggie Marie, whom she believes is a mermaid and whom she hopes will help her sort out the trouble she caused earlier in the day.

Did Appelt set out to replicate the tide? Lots of novels use this technique. We’re placed in the middle of the story and then go back and forth between what happened before and what is happening now. But here it seems especially suited and after I finished the book, I could still feel the wave action.

Unfortunately, this pacing is also a bit of a problem for the book, which is so slow I have to wonder how many children will stick with it. I suppose they will want to find out what happens to Keeper and her “family.” And that may make them finish. Or it may make them just skip ahead to the ending. (It’s interesting that several times in the novel the characters also must wait. Keeper has to wait hours for the tide to be high enough for her trip out to the mouth of the inlet, and her family on the shore, once they realize she’s missing, are told to wait for emergency services. Is there a lesson about patience in here?)

Another problem is the magic realism. It seems Appelt is sending us a mixed message about what to believe. Signe, Keeper’s would-be mom on the shore, says several times that she has to tell Keeper the truth -- that her birth mother isn’t a mermaid and that magic and monsters and fairy tales aren’t real. And it’s to Signe’s real love that Keeper returns. But at the same time, we’re told the story of Jacques de Mer, a merman who turns up as the long lost love of one of Keeper’s neighbors. And we meet the old woman of the sea, Yemaya, who helps Keeper get back to shore. And there’s a small team of animals. Each has a story and each tries to communicate with the humans. Should we believe in magic or not?

Still in all, I liked Keeper. Appelt’s language is lyrical and the novel is filled with small gems (including allusions to Lewis Carroll’s Alice tales and the wonderful character of Dogie, a vet so shaken by the his time in the military, his voice still shakes) and, despite the story’s pace, it is one you’ll think about often after you’ve finished it.


Popular posts from this blog

What I Haven't Read in 2017

I made an odd sort of promise to myself this year: Read fewer books. The past few years, I been reading at a pace of about 100 books per year – a mix of children’s (but not counting picture books), young adult, and adult – and I felt as if I was reading too quickly and perhaps forgetting what I was reading. (Thank goodness for Goodreads.)
However, I consider it a very important part of my job as a librarian to keep up with what’s published, even if it’s a daunting task. Hundreds of thousands books are published each year in this country, so obviously it’s beyond even a superhero librarian (and I’m not one of those) to keep all those titles straight. But I try to at least know something about some books. We have two public-facing desks in my library – one is called the information desk; the other, reference. If you are working at the information desk, you will be asked for book recommendations. You will be asked, have you read this book? You will be asked to help select a book for a r…

"Beartown" by Fredrik Backman

I’m about to be overly effusive: I loved Beartown by Fredrik Backman and I think it is one of the best books I’ve ever read. (See Tangent 1.)

Backman lured us into his Swedish world of curmudgeons and the neighbors who love them with A Man Called Ove and his other novellas. But this isn’t A Man Called Ove. This book has a much larger scope. This feels like the book Backman has always wanted to write but had to wait to give to us until he developed an audience. You got it, bro. I will read whatever else you write in the future. This book more deeply develops his ideas about communities. It is also about parenthood and all the responsibilities that go along with it. It’s about family and best friends who are like family. It’s about belonging. It’s about sorrow and happiness. And there’s some hockey. (Tangent 2.)
You will hate some of the parents (Kevin’s, William’s). You will love some of the teens (Amat, Maya, Ana, Benji, Bobo, Leo...). Be prepared to feel emotions. The characters – a…