Grades 6 - 9 / Ages 11 - 14.
[The cove] belonged to them through Gran's family. Had done through hundreds of years, right since some girl had been abandoned there all by herself in the days when the ships just came and fished for the season, and hardly a soul stayed on the island through the winter anywhere. Gran had said the girl had almost died. She would have, if a whale hadn't fetched up on the shore when her food was almost gone...Steeped in Newfoundland fishing family tradition, Keri is the moving yet unsentimental story of a girl coming to terms with the loss of her life's foundation.
Keri's family has fished for hundreds of years but now her father has gone bankrupt and lost the family boat. Her grandmother, who told Keri the stories of the family's past, has died, and the family's cove has been mutilated by vandals. Terrified of losing it all, Keri tries to save the past by living in a daydream in which she is that girl from long ago, abandoned on the shore.
Reality confronts Keri in the form of her mother who tries to get her to accept change. But the harder her mother pushes her into the scary present, the further Keri retreats into the safe past. Present and past collide, however, when one day, just like a day hundreds of years earlier, a whale washes up on the shore of the family cove. Keri tries to save the whale but it is the animal that saves her.
Keri is Jan Andrews first young adult novel. Andrews is most famous for her picture books The Auction and Very Last First Time, books that deal with subjects like the loss of a family farm, or a child's first foray into taking responsiblity for her family. In Keri, Andrews covers the same ground but this time for young teens. She beautifully captures the anguish and anger of 13-year-old Keri's painful struggle between responsibility and childishess - wanting to do things on her own while a small voice inside her still calls out for her mother.
Still, when the light appeared under her doorway, she was filled with a sudden longing to call out. To have her mother come and sit on the end of the bed and talk to her ... Mum did stop, too. She waited outside, listening. Another chewing out was all Keri would let herself think ... she held herself motionless. At last her mother moved on.
This avoidance of sentimentality characterizes the entire novel right down to its sad but hopeful ending. The reality of life on the Newfoundland shore is tough; no matter how hard you try, you don't always win. Keri learns this, but she also learns that despite all, you still keep going.
The only fault to be found with the novel isn't really a fault at all, rather a wish: it would be nice if a Newfoundlander had written it. Although Andrews acknowledges that she didn't try to capture the language, only to give nuances of it, it would be gratifying to hear more fully this uniquely Canadian dialect.
Keri is highly recommended for young teenagers. While girls will identify more strongly with the protagonist, the story will also appeal to boys.
Alice Reimer is a substitute teacher at a rural Manitoba high school.
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Copyright © 1996 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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