Keeper has had a terrible day! She ruined Signe's gumbo. She ruined Mr. Beauchamp's night blooming cyrus. And she ruined Dogie's two-word song. The only person who can make this day right is Keeper's mother Meggie Marie. One problem: Keeper's mother is a mermaid and she abandoned Keeper seven years ago to return to her mermaid skin. So under the glow of the blue moon, with her faithful friend and "Best Dog" BD by her side, Keeper sets sail in Dogie's stolen boat in search of her mother.
Sitting at one page shy of 400, and with a whopping total of 120 chapters, this book's narrative style shares many similarities with Appelt's other work, THE UNDERNEATH (if it wasn't for Neil Gaiman, Appelt may have even won Newbery gold for that one). I love Appelt's unconventional approach to storytelling (and many kids will too) but couldn't help but wonder if this could have been trimmed down some. It takes this book a long time to get going. Like her previous novel, there's a lot of bouncing back and forth in time within the narrative. Readers will undoubtedly realize early on that details are being kept from them on purpose but the amount of loose ends and the multitude of flashbacks can be confusing for younger readers. It's a lot to keep track of! Plus, the waiting for Keeper to set sail in search of her mother becomes unbearable. I found myself anxious and wishing that Appelt would just get on with it!
Eventually, she does. The climax of this story is extremely suspenseful as harsh realizations begin to settle in. I will say, I thought I had this puzzle put together. I also thought it had been done before, and done very well (ex. WALK TWO MOONS). But I was shockingly surprised by the end of the story and loved the way Appelt blurred the line between fantasy and fiction.
My one minor gripe with this book is its age appropriateness. At first glance, based on the vocabulary and short phrasing, it would appear that this book is more accessible, more kid-friendly than THE UNDERNEATH. But the issues Appelt brings up and the subject matter of particular subplots certainly raised some red flags. I read this book aloud to my class of 5th graders and many of them cringed at the somewhat graphic scenes depicting Keeper's birth. The romantic relationship Mr. Beauchamp recalls throughout the story also brought on many snickers and sneers. Even the explanation behind the disappearance of Meggie Marie becomes somewhat heavy. The way Appelt weaves these issues into her narrative is impressive, but I don't know if children will be able to truly appreciate the writing.
Above all, this book has alot to say about family. Keeper can't help it that her mother, her only real family, is a crazy mermaid who abandoned her. She needs Signe just as much as Signe needs her. Sometimes family is what you make of it. Keeper, Signe, Dogie, and Mr. Beauchamp may not be related by blood but they have formed their own family and what holds them together may even be thicker than blood.
Final Grade: B+