Whether or not you liked Kathy Appelt’s previous book, The Underneath, I promise you will have a completely different experience with this one. The writing is just as elegant, but this one borders on that hinterland between reality and fantasy, having elements of both, but not really being either. And, somehow, Appelt makes it work beautifully.
It’s a simple story: Keeper has grown up on the Texas Gulf of Mexico shore, her family consisting, for the past seven years since her mermaid mother left, of the residents of a little road down by the shore: Signe, the woman who takes care of Keeper; Dogie, the owner of a surfboard rental place; and Mr. Beauchamp, the old man next door. And that’s not counting the animals. It’s a good life; everyone thought so. And then, in one day, it seemed to fall completely apart, a chain reaction started by Keeper. So, to make it better, 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. Appelt uses language I haven’t heard for a long time: cooleoleo, calloo callay, shazaam, easy peasy, and so on. It fits the feel of the book, as something both current yet also outside of time. It has the feel of mythology, and incorporates the mer mythos. But it is also very much grounded in reality. I loved how she defined family as anyone who cares about one another, no matter what, and not necessarily as blood relatives. 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.
Rated: Mild, for some intense situations, and a few mild swear words.