Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Delights of "Keepsake" by Paula Leyden

I am a massive fan of Paula Leyden’s wonderful books for kids. I absolutely loved The Butterfly Heart and The Sleeping Baobab Tree, both award-winning middle grade books set in Zambia, so I was really keen to read Keepsake when I received a copy in the post from Little Island. (I've tried to avoid any spoilers.)

The cover art for Keepsake by Olivia Golden is smashing and I can’t stop looking at it! 

Keepsake is a younger middle grade story set in a small town in Ireland. The story focuses on two kids, Johnny and Ella, and their love of a horse named Storm. Ella has been visiting the horse when she first encounters Johnny.  Storm, though well cared for and kept in a fenced-in field, is wrongly taken one night by “the pound man”. The children only have a few days to save Storm before he will be killed. Johnny and Ella are aided by Ella’s grandmother, Orla. This high-stakes plot drives the story, touching on the racism experienced by Travellers in Ireland, but it never gets too heavy. I love a good horse story, and this one does not disappoint.

Sometimes an adult voice creeps into the third-person narrative just a little, but overall, the story is told from the children’s alternating points of view. We come to understand why Johnny is initially wary around Ella and his family is sure nothing can be done to save Storm. I love the way Paula describes Ella’s special sensitivity to the people closest to her. It’s an interesting and fresh way to describe Ella’s gift. We also have to wait patiently, along with Ella, to find out what Orla’s secret is.

I felt a bit impatient with the early part of the book, but then I realized that I was feeling what Johnny and Ella are feeling. They are anxious to DO something to help Storm, and it’s not until further along in the story that they, along with Orla, are finally able to take action. Paula has written this very cleverly so that we really feel their helplessness and frustration. The last third of the book moves at a brisk but not rushed pace, with secrets revealed, events resolved, and lives sorted. I closed the book feeling thoroughly satisfied and pleased with the way everything worked out. Paula threw in a few small surprises, though I had correctly guessed at one of them.

What really made the story shine for me was the personal details woven into the book. I love that Ella is recording Orla’s stories, and we get to “hear” some of those stories. (I wish I had done more of that with my own family.) Johnny’s grandmother has died recently, and he’s really missing her, which adds extra meaning to his love of Storm and his desperation to get the horse back. Ella longs to ride a horse and have her dad come home. These kids have known loss and longing, and it helps to cement their friendship.

I’m also still drooling a bit for some of Orla’s pancakes. They do sound rather tasty.

You can find out more about Paula Leyden and her books at http://thebutterflyheart.net.