Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Keeper, by Kathi Appelt

Published in hardcover by Atheneum, 2010

You know when you want a book to be so good, and you have such high hopes - even put off reading it because you don’t want the whole thing to be over and done with? That’s how I felt about Keeper. And then, when I finally started reading, all those hopes got that nasty feeling of deflation. It’s not that Keeper is a bad book. It just isn’t what I expected, or hoped for.

My major problems with it:
-I don't like it when characters use obvious and self-referential slang, all the time. Therefore, every 'cooleoleo' and 'stealth kiss!' and 'halloo hallay' made me cringe and step out of the story.
-I don't have a problem with stuttering characters, but it gets painful and annoying to read.
-It bugs me when characters state obvious things to themselves or just put obvious things out there in general. Like Keeper watching the moon come out and then saying 'the moon!' Appelt uses this a lot and I find it tiresome to read, and redundant.
-Which brings me to the main issue of this book - it moves very slowly. Too slowly, I think, for a children's book. There are many flashbacks and cuts to different characters. Some of it is cute. I found the chapters on both Jack and Henri's and Signe and Dogie's relationships well done and quite touching. But if the driving narrative behind this story is Keeper taking a boat out to sea to find her mermaid mama, then it is, at best, an idle.

Appelt can do simple, clear, lyrical language, and do it well. At times there is too much repetition of words and ideas, to the point that it feels a little overdone and like it's tipping a hat to its own cleverness. I know this is an attractive device for kids, and I can see how it might sweep them up and keep them reading. But it just doesn't work for me.

Keeper does redeem itself with some moments of very lovely prose. I particularly liked 'In the deep disappointment of the night, the sound of Sinbad's purr slipped into Mr. Beauchamp's ear.' The little coastal town of Tater and the Oyster Ridge Road are both portrayed with obvious care and affection. And there were, of course, mermaids. But I just didn't feel the magic with this one.

"It didn't matter, did it, what Jack was? It only mattered that he loved him."

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