by Kathi Appelt
First sentence: “Keeper leaned over the edge of the boat.”
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I wasn’t that interested in reading this one because I had such a bad experience with The Underneath. But Pam at Mother Reader convinced me that it’s completely different from Appelt’s first book. And she was right. It’s on that hinterland between reality and fantasy: while it has elements of both, it’s not really either. But even that worked for me.
It’s a simple story: Keeper has grown up on the Texas Gulf of Mexico shore, her family consisting, for the last seven years since her mermaid mother left, of Signe, Dogie and Mr. Beauchamp (that’s not counting the animals). They are the residents of a little road down by the shore. It’s a good life, one that seemed to, in one day, fall completely apart. So, Keeper has decided that she needs to go ask her mother how to put it back to rights. She gets a boat and in the middle of the night, heads out to the ocean to figure out how to put her life back together.
It’s a beautifully written book: sparse in the language, slipping in and out of viewpoints, including the animals, as the story needs. I loved that she used language I haven’t heard for a long time: cooleoleo, calloo callay, shazaam, easy peasy, and so on. It fit the feel of the book, as something both current yet also outside of time. It had the feel of mythology, and incorporated the mer mythos. But it was also very much grounded in reality. I loved how she defined family as anyone who cares about one another, no matter what. I didn’t think there would be enough of a story to manage 400 pages, but with flashbacks to the past explaining how this family came to be a family, it worked for me.
It’s not a flashy book, but it’s a sweet, quiet, tender one. And sometimes that’s exactly what a book should be.