A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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?
- Author: Alexandra Villasante
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Book Characters, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
- Publication date: June 11, 2019
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 310
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, Kindle
- Last updated: July 23, 2019
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