By Cat Hellisen
Paperback, 224 pages
2016, Square Fish
Sarah is thirteen when her mother walks out of her life. Her father becomes distant and wild and soon leaves her in the care of her grandparents, whom Sarah didn’t know she had. Abandoned, living in a crumbling castle tower, Sarah discovers the curse that has tormented her family for generations and drove her mother to leave. Sarah is the only one willing to break the curse on her family, but it proves to be more difficult than she ever imagined.
This book. I can’t even. Sorry in advance for what’s going to be a mostly gushy review. But as soon as I finished this book, I wanted to read it all over again. It became an instant favorite of mine and is definitely on my top all time list for middle grade (yeah…that’s a thing?) fiction. I was already recommending it to people the moment I’d finished. It was just perfect for me. I hope it will be for you too, if you decide to give it a shot.
I was chatting about dark middle grade with Lindsay Smith (@LindsaySmithDC on Twitter) because I needed more of it (all of it!) in my life and she was the one who recommended Beastkeeper to me. I love fairytale retellings so I dropped it in my Amazon cart, and when it arrived the other day, I actually picked it up right away, which is not something I always do. I’m so glad I didn’t let this sit on my shelf for ages!
Hellisen wove a grim tale with beautiful, but simple imagery. I was completely living in this book, even when I had to put it down. This curse was all up in my head and I was eager to unravel it with Sarah. Sarah is a wonderful main character – she’s strong, determined and curious. As a character who was open to magic and actively dreaming about finding it, she still delivered a believable amount of apprehension and skepticism when confronted with it. (Personally it just bugs me when characters are faced with an amazing magical thing and they’re just like “ok.”)
This book is everything I want in a dark middle grade. I need more books like this in my life, stat. Hellisen delivered me the darkness I’ve been craving lately, but also maintained a tone that is appropriate for younger readers. Yet, she also doesn’t talk down to her audience, which I think makes it easier for older readers to enjoy this tale as well.
I fully, 100%, loudly recommend this book for any and all fairytale lovers looking for a grim edge to their retellings.
Also the design is simply lovely: