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The Underneath Paperback – January 5, 2010


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 - 14 years
  • Grade Level: 5 - 9
  • Lexile Measure: 830L (What's this?)
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (January 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416950591
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416950592
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 6.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (139 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,406 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 4–8—Appelt brings Southern Gothic to the middle grade set. Three separate but eventually entwined stories are told piecemeal. There is the tale of an abandoned, pregnant calico cat who finds shelter and friendship with the bloodhound, Ranger. He is the abused and neglected pet of Gar Face, a broken-jawed recluse who lives in the Texas bayou, where he fled 25 years previously to escape an abusive father. And finally there is the story of Grandmother Moccasin, a shape-shifting water snake who has lain dormant in a jar for a thousand years, buried beneath a loblolly pine tree. The threads are brought together when Puck, one of the newborn kittens, breaks the rule of straying from the safety of The Underneath, the sliver of space beneath Gar Face's porch where Ranger is chained and the cats live. The pace of this book is meandering, and there is a clear effort by the dominant third-person narrator to create a lyrical, ancient tone. However, the constant shift of focus from one story line to the next is distracting and often leads to lost threads. Small's black-and-white illustrations add a certain languid moodiness to the text. Themes of betrayal, hope, and love are reflected in the three stories, but this is a leisurely, often discouraging journey to what is ultimately an appropriate ending.—Kara Schaff Dean, Walpole Public Library, MA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Appelt’s impressive novel (her first) entails animals in crisis—a topic of enduring popularity. But the author, whose path from picture books to fantasy is discussed in the Story behind the Story, breathes new life into the sentient-animals premise, introducing strong currents of magic realism into a tale as rich and complex as “the gumbo-like waters of the bayous.” Chained and starved by cruel trapper Gar Face, lonely hound Ranger finds companions in a stray cat and her two kittens. When Mother Cat falls victim to Gar Face’s abuse, the surviving animals, especially sensitive kitten Puck, struggle to keep their makeshift family together. The animals’ caring, generous bonds juxtapose with the smothering love of an ancient shape-shifter in a moving parallel story. Joining Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting as a rare example of youth fantasy with strong American underpinnings, Appelt’s novel folds in specific traditions of the Caddo peoples of east Texas, and casts the bayous as a kind of enchanted forest laden with spirits and benign, organic presences. Some readers may struggle with Appelt’s repeated phrases and poetic fragments, and wish the connections and conflicts in the story came to a faster boil. But most children will be pulled forward by the vulnerable pets’ survival adventure and by Small’s occasional, down-to-earth drawings, created with fluid lines that are a perfect match for the book’s saturated setting and Appelt’s ebbing, flowing lyricism. Grades 4-8. --Jennifer Mattson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

This is such a beautiful story, and beautifully written.
E. M. Morgeson
Bound to be one of those books that people either hate or love, I'm inclined to like it very very much.
E. R. Bird
This book is proof that winning an "award" does not make it a good book.
JD

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

167 of 183 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I review lots of books. Oodles of caboodles of books. And a lot of the time my thoughts can basically be boiled down to very simple sentences. "Me like book. Book good." or conversely "Me no like book. Book bad." It takes a very special story to knock me out of this frame of mind. When you pick up a copy of "The Underneath" by Kathi Appelt and you read the words, "A novel like this only comes around every few decades," on the back cover you're forgiven if you scoff a little. Uh-huh. Suuuuuure it does. But doggone it if it isn't true. Appelt in her debut novel has somehow managed to write a book that I've been describing to people as (and this is true) Watership Down meets The Incredible Journey meets Holes meets The Mouse And His Child. If that doesn't make any sense to you it is because you have never read a book quite like this. Bound to be one of those books that people either hate or love, I'm inclined to like it very very much. But that doesn't mean it isn't weird, man. Really freaky deaky weird.

"There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road." North of the Gulf of Mexico, west of the Sabine River that divides Texas and Louisiana, three hundred miles north of Houston in far East Texas a cat is left to fend for itself in a forest with her belly full of unborn kits.
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49 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Davis on December 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The Underneath: My Reaction
It must be a good book. I've never finished a book before and been absolutely, compulsively driven to write a review. I am this time. But I hated the book.

The YA authors in my writing group agreed to each read one of the books nominated for the YA National Book Award. My choice/assignment was The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. I was completely excited: an award nominee about dogs and cats! Just my cup 'o tea.

Based on the following reviews, I guess I was expecting a beautiful, lyrical story about love for/between some animals. Thirty pages in, I felt slam-dunked.

"A mysterious and magical story; poetic yet loaded with suspense."-- Louis Sachar, Newbery Medal-winning author of Holes

"The Underneath is as enchanting as a hummingbird, as magical as the clouds." -- Cynthia Kadohata, Newbery Medal-winning author of Kira-Kira

"Rarely do I come across a book that makes me catch my breath, that reminds me why I wanted to be a writer -- to make of life something beautiful, something enduring. The Underneath is a book of ancient themes -- love and loss and betrayal and redemption -- woven together in language both timeless and spellbinding. A classic."-- Alison McGhee, author of the New York Times bestselling Someday

"Kathi Appelt's novel, The Underneath, reads like a ballad sung."-- Ashley Bryan, Hans Christian Anderson Award Nominee and Three-Time Coretta Scott King Award Medalist

All writers I respect. A lyrical story of redemption.

The writing is lyrical, alright. It's downright stunning prose, so much so that the only two comparisons I can make are Louise Erdrich and Toni Morrison. And the magic realism is comparable, too. It's a beautiful thing. It reads like a song.
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42 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Monica Edinger on April 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Wow. What a book. What a story. What an amazing piece of writing.

Now I admit it took me a while to read this one. While I definitely enjoyed sad animal stories as a child, now, with the occasional exception, I avoid them. And so, when I received a gorgeously packaged ARC of Kathi Appelt's The Underneath, I admired it (as it is handsomely illustrated by David Small) , and then read the flap. "An abandoned calico cat, about to have kittens, hears the lonely howl of a chained-up dog...." Nope. Not for me. Until someone told me it reminded her of Russell Hoban's The Mouse and his Child which happens to be one of my favorite books. So yesterday, feeling lousy with allergies, a head cold, and a painful hip (can't run which is misery for me), I pulled out the ARC and read it.

And was immediately and utterly drawn in. I read without pausing till I was done. What a remarkable book. It is an adventure, a story of myth and magic, of sadness, of family -- and is very beautifully done indeed. Yes, it is sad. Yes, there are abused animals. Even worse, some dead ones too. But, oh my goodness, is it rich and complex and gorgeous. I would have loved, loved, loved it as a child.

While I can see why someone might compare it to The Mouse and his Child because of the journey aspect of the story, the setting, and the sentiment within (and the illustrations as Small also did an edition of the Hoban book), it seems extremely different to me. Another book this reminded me of was Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux. The darkness, the multiple plot threads (from different points in time) all coming together slowly, the allegorical qualities, the magical elements are in both. But DiCamillo's like Hoban's has humor. Be warned that Appelt's book is deadly serious.
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