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Keeper of the Night Hardcover – May 1, 2003
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In a fascinating departure from her usual folksy Southern fiction, award-winning author Kimberly Willis Holt transports her readers to the island of present-day Guam, where thirteen-year-old Isabels family is broken by her mothers suicide. Numbed by her mothers death, Isabel grimly plods through each day, while scribbling in her ever-present notebook. But existence on the colorful, richly cultured island hasnt ended, and life keeps interrupting Isabels sorrow. Her best friend Terecita needs help in becoming the best female cock-fighter on Guam, her fathers fishing assistant, Roman, appears to be flirting with her, and Auntie Bernadette, the local healer, keeps trying to school her in the art of herbs. Meanwhile, Isabel is disturbed by the fact that her father has practically stopped speaking, and her brother Frank is beginning to cut himself when he thinks no one is looking. But Isabel sees, and her heart is hardened: "I may look like my mother, but Im not like her...Im not like my mother at all. I am here." Isabels challenge will be to learn how to heal, and with the help of her vibrant community, she will. Holt is a masterful plotter--each strand of Isabels story comes together beautifully. But that doesnt mean Holt sacrifices description or character for storyline. Every nuance of the Guam landscape and culture is seen and heard, from the quirky native "eyebrow language," to the illegal thrill of cock fighting. An original and intriguing novel that will send students searching for Guam in the nearest atlas. (Ages 12 to 18) --Jennifer Hubert
From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8-Since her mother's suicide, 13-year-old Isabel Moreno cleans up after her 7-year-old sister and watches and worries about her 12-year-old brother, who spends his nights carving "I hate you" on his bedroom wall. Their fisherman father spends long hours on his boat and has no time for his family. Now, Isabel feels as if she can't remember her mother. No one at her Catholic school or in her small Guam village mentions her name except her Aunt Bernadette, who tries to interest her niece in entering the fiesta-queen contest that her mother won two years in a row. Her brother's collapse, on the day of the fiesta, finally drives the family to get the help they need to work their way out of their grief. Isabel, an aspiring writer, tells her story in short chapters, as if they were entries in a journal. She comes through as a thoroughly believable eighth grader, still in need of support from friends and family, but becoming aware of her distinctive interests and talents as well. A broad range of friends and family is equally believable and sympathetically portrayed. Readers are drawn into Isabel's world and her determination to keep on going in the face of her overwhelming loss and responsibilities. They will welcome the way the adults in her world finally intervene, allowing her to return to middle-school concerns. A beautifully written description of sorrow and recovery that should appeal to a wide audience.
Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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I am 12 and I had to read this for a Homeschool report on Guam. We made the Golai Hagun Sune recipe for my report. It is in the book.
Although there was a sad idea behind it, I found it very interesting to see how everyone grieves and moves on differently. If you choose to read this novel, you will quickly see how Isabel, her sister, her brother, and her father all deal with the pain of their mother’s loss.
In addition to this, I found that the character of Isabel was very relatable. She is the average teenage girl dealing with boys, family, and friends. This added to the interest of the novel as I could picture myself in Isabel’s shoes. However, I found that the novel got a bit repetitive, as the same thing would happen every night. There was a great story behind it but some parts could have been removed.
Overall, this novel tells a great story of getting over difficult life events and how much friends and family can help out during different times; whether it be through support or just having someone to talk to and spend time with. I would recommend this novel to anyone looking for an easy read that contains real-life characters and situations.
Isabel's ordinary teenage life, filled with friends, school, and meddling relatives, changes the moment she finds her mother dead and a bottle of sleeping pills by her side. Now Isabel struggles to remember her mother and to try to take her place.
Her young sister Olivia wakes each night with nightmares and a wet bed. Her father refuses to sleep in the bed he shared with his wife. Isabel's brother, 12-year-old Frank, once told knock-knock jokes. Now he closes his bedroom door to the rest of his family and carves "I Hate You'" into the wall. When Frank changes from carving the wall to cutting himself, Isabel acknowledges the weight of the burden she carries.
As she searches her house for any sign of happy memories, Isabel finally brings herself to confront the reasons her mother took her own life. Finding and reading the childhood stories her mother had tied up in a yellow ribbon and saved in a drawer, Isabel begins to recover.
Keeper of the Night is a serious book written in a way sure to appeal to its target audience of 12- to 18-year-olds. The short chapters, some less than a page, others a spare poem or brief list, create an atmosphere and sense of immediacy. National Book Award (When Zachary Beaver Came to Town) winner Kimberly Willis Holt lived on Guam, where the story is set, as a young girl, and the island left its mark on her. Cockfights, fiestas, aunties who work their magic and stir up local dishes give this novel a strong sense of place.
Sensuous, poetic, even humorous, this story of a young girl struggling to keep her family together through their tragedy ends with hope and the realization that characters like Isabel and books like Keeper of the Night do sometimes have happy endings.