I have mixed feelings about Kathi Appelt's Keeper as I'm big fan of her initial novel The Underneath and I'm a fan of hers as a person. That said, Keeper wasn't The Underneath.
There wasn't a character in Keeper who I connected with on any level. The novel tells the tale of a significant day in the life of the title character. Keeper is a young girl starts the day by causing one calamity after another within her extended family. Each miscue has a deep seeded significance to a different character, but none affected me while I waited for the next thing to happen.
Keep then embarks on a journey of...self discovery? I'm not so sure. She definitely goes on a journey which only brings her back to where she began. Loose ends are tied. And I'm left uncertain. What did Keeper learn? How did she change? If the change is she now knows who her real mother is or who her family is then the novel just didn't do enough for me. I read in several books on writing that one objective for an author is to "raise the stakes." I just didn't see Appelt go quite as far with raising the stakes as she did in The Underneath.
The Underneath shocked and surprised me at times. There was someone to loathe. I didn't find a villain in Keeper. Also, I didn't find anything heart-wrenching or any moments of true desperation. There are moments where characters or situations are taken to a precipice of no return, but all end safely, conveniently...and for me this makes the novel disappointing. There is no real threat of danger or loss...the stakes needed to be raised for me.
One of the curious parts of Keeper is the title character's journey. Clearly, Keeper sets out on a journey to find her mother...and, of course, she circles back (unintentionally?) and finds that her mother was in her own house all along. This reminds me of the classic speech of Russell Conwell's Acres of Diamonds--a man spends his life looking for a treasure which was in his own backyard all along. Keeper's circuitous path in finding her mother coincides with something I stumbled across recently on NPR--try as we might, human beings cannot travel in a straight line without a visible guide point such as a sun or star...check out this link to see a very brief, interesting video on the topic (http://vimeo.com/17083789).
While I am lukewarm on the story itself, I remain a fan of Appelt's writing style and mastery of the craft. I think a younger middle school audience will enjoy the book (6th grade, some 7th grade) as it is rooted in mythology and love.
One final note, the most interesting relationship in this YA novel (and one which raised an eyebrow) is one between two male characters. In a novel where love binds all creatures (bird and dog, girl and mother, man and woman) Appelt allows herself to have man and man also joined by love. Friends as young kids they are lost to each other for their entire lives. Reunited in old age, they clasp hands and...live happily ever after? We're not told explicitly, but if we follow the theme that everything once lost in the novel (people and objects) is reunited for good then we can make that leap as a reader.
There are things in this YA novel to discuss and celebrate--just for a more limited audience than what Appelt accomplished with The Underneath.