Review: Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen

4 February, 2015 Reviews 23 comments

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Beastkeeper by Cat HellisenBeastkeeper by Cat Hellisen
Published by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers on February 3rd 2015
Pages: 208
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Amazon Good BooksBook Depository

Sarah has always been on the move. Her mother hates the cold, so every few months her parents pack their bags and drag her off after the sun. She’s grown up lonely and longing for magic. She doesn’t know that it’s magic her parents are running from.

When Sarah’s mother walks out on their family, all the strange old magic they have tried to hide from comes rising into their mundane world. Her father begins to change into something wild and beastly, but before his transformation is complete, he takes Sarah to her grandparents—people she has never met, didn’t even know were still alive.

Deep in the forest, in a crumbling ruin of a castle, Sarah begins to untangle the layers of curses affecting her family bloodlines, until she discovers that the curse has carried over to her, too. The day she falls in love for the first time, Sarah will transform into a beast . . . unless she can figure out a way to break the curse forever.

The next time someone tries to dismiss middle grade, when I’m done smacking them in the face with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I’m flinging Beastkeeper in their face. I don’t read much middle grade so maybe this is a known thing that people just don’t talk about but are all MG books completely bananas and just flying largely under the collective literary radar?

I often fall into the trap of thinking that middle grade means the book will somehow be simple and/or shallower than YA or adult and Beastkeeper kind of disproves that theory early on. The writing is lovely and eloquently insightful in a way that a simple, shallow book would skip right over.

“After all, there is nothing quite like losing a parent to knock the childishness out of a person’s spirit.”

Seriously, I want to roll around in the writing like a dog in a sunny field. It’s gorgeous and moving and stop me before I use up all the adjectives.

Cat Hellisen has the fairytale vibe right. It feels just the right amount of dreamy and magical without getting in the way of the plot/story. I wasn’t sure going in if this was going to be full fantasy or a sort of allegorical magical realism and was quite pleased to discover it was the former.

Beastkeeper treads that weird narrative knife-edge where the prose/tense/something technical I don’t fully understand (maybe?) keeps you at arm’s length (something does, okay?), but the story draws you in anyway. This totally doesn’t make sense, right? Welcome to my head. What I’m trying to say is I never really felt like I was completely sucked into the story or the world but I still cared and felt deeply bad for Sarah. I mean, how can you not? The girl has got it ROUGH. She’s basically been abandoned by her entire family and left to figure out the tangled knot of lore surrounding their history with no help or support and she’s a kid for god’s sake and she also spends a lot of time in the snow and oh look I’m choking up. ANYWAY.

It’s also kind of weird that I’m getting so emotional thinking about this book because I didn’t really connect with it until around two thirds of the way through. It’s not that the beginning was bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I had that thing where I’d put it down and then have to kind of talk myself into picking it back up. I think that had a lot more to do with my own headspace and this is kind of a personal problem, but it happened a lot in the beginning so I figure it’s worth mentioning. The book was interesting and I wanted to go back to it but I wasn’t compelled to get back to it right away.

However the universe likes to prove me wrong and the last third or so of this book is absolutely off the wall bananas. Like, so epically bananas I want to go back in time and smack myself for ever thinking Beastkeeper was even remotely not engaging. A standing ovation to Cat Hellisen, I was caught so off guard I can’t figure out how to finish this metaphor. Hell, I didn’t even think you could do some of that in middle grade but that’s what I get for making assumptions.

My other thing worth mentioning (it’s not really a pro or con? I have a lot of conflict here) is that there is a ship and I shipped it though I feel really weird about it for spoilery reasons. This is a kind of teasing way to mention it but I feel like it’s worth noting as I know that is a huge motivator for some people (I include myself in that some).

Long story short, Beastkeeper is absolutely gorgeous. It’s atmospheric in a deliciously creepy and magical way and if you are not satisfied by lovely prose alone, once it gets goi ng it goes like whoa. Highly recommend to fairy tale fans and people who are skeptical of middle grade because if you’re like me, it’ll change your mind.

Meg Morley

Meg Morley

Co-bloggery at Cuddlebuggery
Meg is an all-around book nerd who just really wants to talk about books, preferably with other people but by herself will do. Find her on Goodreads.

23 Responses to “Review: Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen”

  1. Kate Copeseeley

    The answer to your first question is YES!!!!!!!!!! I’ve never understood why more people don’t read middle grade, and anytime you want a list of amazeballs MG books, just let me know. I read them all the time.

  2. Carina Olsen

    Awesome review Meg. <3 I'm so glad you enjoyed this book so much 😀 I WANTS IT. I adore middle grade books. <3 And this one sounds amazing. Yay for shipping the ship 😀 I heard someone say they didn't like the romance 🙁 but you saying you did, make me more excited, hih 🙂 Thank you for sharing your thoughts sweetie. <3
    Carina Olsen recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday #173My Profile

    • Meg Morley

      THE COVER IS SO GORGEOUS (ngl, that was half of why I originally requested it bc I am a shallow person and easily seduced by pretty, illustrative things)

  3. Brigid

    Yes! I love middle grade. I think, generally speaking, a lot of YA readers and adult readers look down on MG as if it’s lesser because the stories involve young kids. I always see comments such as “I don’t feel comfortable reading MG because of my age.” I find this puzzling because if you’re an adult reading YA, than how is reading MG less worthy than YA? I love YA, but I wish MG was given more thought and respect as our next door neighbor.

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this, Meg. It’s going on the top of my to-read list.
    Brigid recently posted…Waiting On Wednesday: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. MaasMy Profile

    • Meg Morley

      Hmmmm, as someone who has said that for me it’s more that I don’t relate as much to MG? For whatever reason I can either mentally age myself down or the characters up with YA in a way that I can’t with MG. That and whenever there’s a ship I feel creepy as hell shipping it bc hello you are children.

      Either way, I don’t think people should dismiss MG, ESPECIALLY NOT THIS MG. I hope you like it!

  4. Christina (A Reader of Fictions)

    I SPY A MEG REVIEW. Such excitement.

    “The next time someone tries to dismiss middle grade, when I’m done smacking them in the face with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I’m flinging Beastkeeper in their face” <- this just played out like a movie in my head and it gets a standing ovation. Please do this to the douchey people who are like obviously middle grade is terribly written.

    Sadly, no, all middle grade books are not totally bananas and flying under the radar, but the best ones are. You should check out The Imaginary. That one is also totally bananas.

    "Seriously, I want to roll around in the writing like a dog in a sunny field. It’s gorgeous and moving and stop me before I use up all the adjectives." <- THIS

    Dreamy, magical, and fucking creepy. That's the true fairy tale vibe. Sorry, Disney.

    Haaaaa, the ship. I did not ship it, but I can see why you did, and also I would like to know what happened with that. Dear Cat Hellisen, halp.
    Christina (A Reader of Fictions) recently posted…Top Likes & Dislikes in Bookish RomancesMy Profile

    • Cat Hellisen

      ” and also I would like to know what happened with that. Dear Cat Hellisen, halp.”


      I too am intrigued. Maybe one day I’ll write it and find out. *evil grin* I think there would be an interesting clash of power (magical vs strength of character.)

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