Parents' Guide to

The Underneath

By Matt Berman, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 11+

Gripping story is loving, lyrical, but has brutal violence.

Book Kathi Appelt Animals 2008
The Underneath Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this book.

Community Reviews

age 11+

Based on 15 parent reviews

age 9+

Impactfully heartbreaking.

I recall being in the 5th grade and reading The Underneath for the first time; When I finished I was teary and refused to look at the book for months. Yet, it was one of the best books I've ever read. Good literature should be engaging and impactful- Appelt's book is so. This is no fluffy mass-manufactured YA book, dependent on the questionable stability of love triangles, nor an overly farfetched, pointlessly violent work of fiction. Rather, each act of violence has importance and develops the characters and the multitude of views emphasize both the solidarity of the characters and the complexity of their situation.

This title has:

Great messages
age 9+

Not what I expected

Book store recommended this to me to read with my daughter. Arguably, my daughter might be a touch more mature than average. She was a few months from turning 9 when we read it. She did find a few parts upsetting and did cry at least once, but she loves this book. It ended up being a game, "how many extra chapters will Mom read after she says, 'okay, this is the last one'." During the intense parts we talked how "this ain't no Disney story." Teaches about family/love.

This title has:

Educational value
Great messages
Great role models

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (15 ):
Kids say (17 ):

From the beginning, the threat of danger is jarring and gripping, and from there, expressive language weaves a vivid, passionate story that's both eloquent and haunting. Appelt doesn't just tell us how the characters are feeling, or what the swamp is like; she shows us. And that's exactly what good literature does. The reader is there in the bayou with the abandoned cat, the baying hound, the swaying loblolly pines, and feeling the lonely mystery of their world.

The world can be a brutal place, especially this place. Nature is harsh enough, but the cruelty of damaged, lonely characters driven by revenge make it worse for themselves and everyone around them, especially for small, dependent creatures like kittens. The bad guy is clearly bad, and the good guys are good. Gar Face is lonely, sad, and mean. He lives an ugly life, even brutalizing the bloodhound that had once been his trusty hunting companion. On the other hand, even though Ranger, the calico, and the kittens seem destined to live in the "underneath," their lives are loving and meaningful. They all make selfless choices that help them build a family, and survive the menacing world around them. The shape-shifting Grandmother Moccasin is a little more complicated. But her story underlines the primary theme that hatred poisons one’s life, while love and compassion heals.

Book Details

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