The Grief Keeper

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
The Grief Keeper Book Poster Image
Teen immigrant takes on another's grief in unusual sci-fi.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Marisol puts a relatable face on the story of the thousands of young people fleeing violence in Central America. Reading about her life in El Salvador and the violence that surrounded her and her family will give readers an understanding of why so many people are willing to risk everything for a chance at a better life.

Positive Messages

Even in the darkest grief and despair, hope can be found.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Marisol is fearless and determined. She keeps herself and her sister, Gabi, safe on the journey to the border. Once in the United States, she doesn't hesitate when offered a chance (with big risk attached) to stay in the country.


Flashbacks tell how Marisol and Rey's brothers died and why a man was shot and killed (never in graphic detail). In El Salvador, Marisol is threatened when it's discovered that she's sexually attracted to another girl.


Two teen girls share kisses. 


Some profanity scattered throughout ("f--k," "s--t," "bulls--t," "bitch," "goddamn," "f--got").


Characters read the Harry Potter books and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that in Alexandra Villasante's novel The Grief Keeper, 17-year-old Marisol and her 12-year-old sister, Gabi, have fled their home in El Salvador and made the perilous journey to the United States border. They're now in a detention camp in Pennsylvania waiting to hear if their request for asylum will be granted. Just as Marisol is beginning to lose hope, a woman from the U.S. government makes her a remarkable offer. If she agrees to test an experimental medical device for one month, she and her sister will be able to stay in the country. The device is designed to transfer grief from a person suffering from a terrible emotional trauma to another person who will become their "grief keeper." Marisol expects to be paired with someone like a soldier with PTSD, but finds herself the grief keeper for Rey, a white girl her own age who comes from a wealthy, well-connected family. There's some profanity ("f--k," "s--t," "bulls--t," "bitch," "goddamn"), and flashbacks tell how Marisol and Rey's brothers died, but never in graphic detail.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bydfcommander August 24, 2019

Love is Love

Sibling love
Parental love
Family love
Painful love
Gender love
Friendship love
Fierce love ...
...all tied together in this work of love.

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What's the story?

THE GRIEF KEEPER begins at a detention camp in Pennsylvania for undocumented immigrants. Fearing for their lives,17-year-old Marisol Morales and her 12-year-old sister, Gabi, fled El Salvador after their father disappeared and their brother was killed by a gang. They're asking for asylum, but will they get it? Marisol isn't sure. So they sneak out of the camp and hitch a ride with a mysterious woman, Indranie Patel, who works for the government and makes Marisol an extraordinary offer: Take part for one month in a medical experiment, and she and Gabi can remain in the U.S. Marisol learns she'll be the "grief keeper" for someone who's experienced a terrible trauma, taking that person's grief into her own body. It's dangerous, but Marisol is certain it's worth the risk if it will keep her and Gabi safe. After being told the experiment will help soldiers with PTSD, Marisol is surprised when she and Gabi are taken to a mansion outside Washington, D.C., and she's introduced to a white girl her own age, Rey Warner. Rey is overcome with grief after witnessing her twin brother's death, and wants nothing to do with Marisol or the experiment. But the girls begin a tentative friendship over a shared love of a fictional teen TV drama called Cedar Hollow. As the experiment progresses, Marisol and Rey discover they're sharing not only grief but also a coming to terms with their sexuality.

Is it any good?

Readers hoping for a spine-tingling page-turner are likely to be disappointed, but those wanting to learn more about the plight of young undocumented immigrants will be rewarded. The Grief Keeper is an unusual mix of the refugee experience, LGBTQ issues, and elements of science fiction that could help spark conversations between teens and parents about the role of immigrants (including those in their own families) in American history and how Americans should respond as a nation to those seeking new lives in the U.S.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how asylum seekers like Marisol and Gabi are treated in The Grief Keeper. How welcoming do you think America should be to people fleeing violence in their own countries?

  • What do you know about your family's experience as immigrants to America, if your family is not Native American? Were they welcomed when they arrived, or did they face discrimination and prejudice?

  • The LGBTQ community in many countries faces not only prejudice but also the threat of death or imprisonment. Do you think this is a reason someone should be granted asylum in the U.S.? Why or why not?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love immigration tales and Latinx stories

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