Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Safekeeping by Karen Hesse

Expected Publication Date: September 18, 2012

Young Adult, Ages 12+

ARC copy used for review.

Personal Ranking 4 out of 5


"This is madness. This is the United States.
This doesn't happen here. But, it IS happening."

Radley Parker-Hughes is in Haiti helping at an orphanage after the earthquake when the President of the United States is assassinated and the American People's Party takes over. Radley sets out for home and her parents, but the United States she lands in is unrecognizable. Landing in New Hampshire, Radley's parents aren't there to pick up her, but she doesn't have the proper documentation to cross state lines into Vermont. So Radley decides to walk all the way home. But after days on the road when she finally arrives at her house, her parents are no where to be found. Feeling unsafe and afraid, she does the only thing she can think of and sets out for the safety of Canada, wanting nothing more than the safety of her parents and their love.

What an amazing story! I sat and read this on my lunch break yesterday, the 11th anniversary of 9/11. Connecting the two together made for an incredibly powerful reading experience, and one that I was just not prepared for. The United States that Radley comes home to could have so easily happened, and after 9/11 so many Americans were afraid that it would. I believe that it still easily could. Radley shows so much strength of character at the age of 17, even though she is in shock for most of the story. How many of us would give up high school to spend months down in another country in poverty?

What was truly incredible about the story and the way it was written, was actually the very thing that annoyed me so much in the beginning. At times the story and narration seem so disjointed and jumpy, with little connection between points and pages. About 25 pages in I was really starting to get disappointed, but I kept trucking and the deeper I got the more frustrated I became. But, then like that silly "light bulb" moment, it suddenly became clear. We live in a world today of constant contact and communication, there is actually an overabundance of information available constantly at our fingertips. So how isolated would you feel if it was all suddenly gone? No phones, no internet, no news and no one you feel you can trust. The writing made me feel as disconnected as Radley was. By the end, I wanted her to be reunited with her parents as much as she did. You don't know whats going on because there are no phones, no internet. Radley is cut off from the world, and very alone.

Interspersed throughout the story are photographs taken by the author. They are beautiful, but often not relevant to the story at all. I'm not sure what her intention was, maybe to give us a sample of what Radley's mother's pictures were like. Radley brought a few with her on her journey to have a small part of home with her and to bring her comfort. As we went through the book, it felt like we were looking at mom's pictures with her. The only thing that truly disappointed me, was the layout of some of them. Any yearbooker can tell you not to place eyes, heads, limbs etc in the gutter of the book. Its like riding a roller coaster, they must remain inside the margins at all times to avoid ruining a stunning photo.

I would use this story for a teen book club in a heartbeat, and even though it isn't historical or true, I also wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to an American History teacher. Four years ago when I was a yearbook professional, there was an AP US History teacher who was married to one of my literary magazine advisers. Every year her husband would let his each of his classes vote to decide what topics they would study for the last nine weeks of the school year. That spring in 2008, they chose 9/11 because they were too young when it happened to remember or understand the true magnitude of that day. They didn't understand "the fuss," as they put it. But they wanted to learn, so that's what they studied. That is a story that has always stuck with me. I was a sophomore at JMU, I can tell you everything about that day. But, these kids, were only 10 or 11, they don't understand. Its too big for them, and probably the same for all those who will come after them. Safekeeping is truly a book written for their generation. It is written in such a way, that even though the story has nothing to do with 9/11, it captures the emotion and the reality of the world you know changing suddenly overnight.

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