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.Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen
Published by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers on February 3rd 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Amazon・ Good Books・Book 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.