Book Review | The Underneath
by Kathi Appelt

Score: 4.5

Illustrated by David Small

© 2008, Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

This is not a Jewish book, however it is such a powerful work of fiction filled with story, message and excellent writing that I just have to recommend it. Heroes and villains, humans and animals, fact and fantasy, life and death, past and present all come together as a small calico cat enters the swamps of Louisiana having been dumped there by a family she thought loved her. She soon finds a home in “The Underneath,” a dark hole literally underneath the porch of an evil man known only as Gar-Face due to his horrifically scarred appearance. She shares this space with Ranger, a hound chained there by Gar-Face, and her newborn kittens, Puck and Sabine. All should be fine as long as they keep themselves underneath the porch. Of course, where would be the story in that?

Remember the old adage “Curiosity killed the cat”? Well, start with that,  add some snakes, a giant alligator, tragedy, thousands of birds, all the trees of the swamp, joy, Native Americans, anger, shape shifters, legends, love, revenge, promises, quests, hope, survival, surprise and now you have a story. Pick this book up, open it at any page, and you will read the most magnificent, well-crafted writing you will have read in a long time. You will not be able to stop reading, but stop you must, to go back to the beginning and start where the story starts: “There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road. A small calico cat…”

Yes, David Small did some drawings for this book. They are exquisite, but not necessary.  I am afraid they will make the appropriate readers for this book think it is a book for readers younger than it really is. This is a serious book, for serious readers. It is a bit complex and there are a number of stories to follow. Try not to let the drawings interfere with that.

I highly recommend this book for the age group it is meant for and their parents.

Grade Level: 4th-8th

Ages: 9-14

©2011 Kathleen M. Bloomfield and all rights reserved.
Books used in this review were provided by my local public library.
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