Friday, January 28, 2022

The Keeper

McCall, Guadalupe Garcia. The Keeper
January 25th 2022 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

James and Ava move from Texas to a small town in Oregon with their parents. The parents are thrilled, especially since the mother has a job as a professor, and they have a big house in a beautiful area. Even the neighbors are super nice, starting a fire and stocking the fridge with groceries before they arrive. James misses his friends and the Texas sun, and is still grieving the death of his beloved grandmother (Ita) and feels somehow that the move is not honoring her memory and disconnecting him from his Mexican-American roots. He goes back and forth between arguing with his parents and feeling bad that he's not being a good kid. He also has an irritating relationship with Ava, where they play annoying pranks on each other. He puts her doll in the Crock Pot; she fills his baseball glove with petroleum jelly. They also fight over their dog, Baxter. When James gets weird letters from someone signed "The Keeper", he thinks it is another of Ava's pranks. The tension of this mystery builds until creepy neighbors
Strengths: Well, I guess I can't take cookies to new neighbors any more! James' anger and sadness at being relocated, his troubled relationship with his sister, and his distrust of the neighbors set the scene well for a surprising turn of events that speaks to many of our worst nightmares. It's hard to write a review, because I don't want to spoil any of that. The Mexican-American culture was interesting, and there was a lot of Spanish mixed in, which was interesting when James and Ava used it with the new children they meet who didn't share their background. I did enjoy the fact that after a bumpy start, the neighborhood kids were nice and invited James to play baseball with them. I also really liked the parents, with their movie nights and their high expectations for behaviour. The horror part of this was quite well done. 
Weaknesses: The scary parts were good, but came a bit late. I wish that the cover were a bit different. It's lovely, but not scary to 8th graders. Maybe just the house, without the kids? I find that horror books with a cartoon-style of illustration don't get picked up as readily as the work of Joel Sutherland or K.R. Alexander
What I really think: This was someone similar to Ockler's The Smashed Man of Dread End or Lawrence's The Stitchers, or even Ellen Oh's Spirit Hunters. I really liked the use of local legends and the Mexican-American culture, but I wish this had gotten to the well-written horror scenes much sooner. 

Leila Roy at Bookshelves of Doom loved this one a LOT, and she's a better judge of horror than I am. 

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