Keeper is a ten-year old girl living on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. Keeper’s mother, Meggie Marie, left her when she was a child so she lives with a young woman named Signe, and her dog named BD (short for Best Dog). Signe tells Keeper that her mother was a mermaid and went back to the sea after Keeper was born. So Keeper grows up believing in mermaids and fairytales and that she’s a special girl with special mermaid abilities.
Next to Keeper and Signe lives Mr. Beauchamp, an old man with a one-eyed cat named Sinbad. Mr. Beauchamp is waiting and wishing and hoping that someday he’ll be reunited with the boy with blue eyes. The boy he met when he was so many years younger. The boy he ran from and could never find again.
Down the road from Mr. Beauchamp is Dogie. Dogie runs a surf-board rental shop and Keeper likes to work with him. Dogie is in love with Signe and on the day the book begins, he’s practiced a two-word song that he’s going to sing for Signe that night. Keeper can’t wait for Dogie’s two-word song.
Everything is supposed to go perfectly that night, the night of a blue moon. Signe will make her blue moon gumbo, Mr. Beauchamp’s night flowers will bloom and he’ll be done waiting, and Dogie will sing his two-word song. But Keeper messes it all up. Wracked with guilt Keeper turns to the only person who can help her, her mother, Meggie Marie the mermaid. Desperate to find her mother so she can fix everything, Keeper embarks on an ocean-bound journey and gets swept away into danger and desperation.
Keeper reads as a children’s book should read, simple language, pictures to enhance the imagination, a fun story with adventure and a little girl who doesn’t know better. But underneath the fairytale of talking crabs and seagulls who eat watermelon are adult topics. Unwed mothers who abandon their children, a scary birth scene in the middle of the ocean, age and death, a veteran traumatized from his experience in the war, and love that doesn’t necessarily meet everyone elses expectations. These are real-world scenarios placed in a children’s book and I can’t imagine an eight year old, no matter how mature, understanding some of the more difficult themes.
Another detail that makes Keeper more than a children’s book is the narrative. The storytelling isn’t linear; it doesn’t follow a set arc. We are with Keeper on her journey, and then we flashback to what happened to Signe when she ran away from home, and where Mr. Beauchamp lived when he was younger, and what happened to Dogie to make him stutter the way he does. Beautiful literary themes all of them, but I do caution anyone who wants to get this book for their child that they should expect some question-and-answer sessions to follow.
I loved Keeper for containing the topics it did, for being mature and expecting more from a child reader. For containing hints of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky (Oh frabjous day, calloo callay!). And like Lewis Carroll’s works, I loved it for being a tad dark and ominous. It doesn’t patronize to the younger audience, it exposes the fact that the world we live in is not a fairytale and that’s okay. Through the childlike language is a story about a group of people who care for each other, individually unique humans, tragically brought together, but living happily in the “world unto itself.”
(I received this book from the publisher for review)