The Barnes & Noble Review
Kimberly Willis Holt, author of the National Book Awardwinning When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, crafts a moving story of one girl's struggle to cope with her mother's suicide.
Told in short chapters through the narrator's words, Holt's tale takes us to modern-day Guam, where we see how Isabela and her family try to get on with their normal lives despite the tension that surrounds them. At first, Isabela is the "dutiful daughter," tending to her anguished family, but she slowly begins acting out herself, particularly when Mary Kelly -- a non-native from a wealthier family -- moves to the area and a potential romantic interest of Isabela's gravitates toward Mary instead. But when things slowly come to a head and Isabela's brother, Frank, winds up in the hospital after cutting himself, the family begins healing communication.
Holt weaves together a beautiful, sophisticated story that won't disappoint her loyal fans. As usual, the author is keenly attuned to people and their relationships, always remembering to keep young Isabela feeling the pain of difficult family situations but distant enough to focus on her own friendships and problems. Different from Holt's previous work -- especially with the atypical setting of Guam -- this tour de force is a novel not to miss. Shana Taylor
"This evocative novel set in Guam traces the months following the suicide of native girl Isabel's mother," wrote PW in a starred review. "The author works magic, recreating the sights, sounds and smells of Guam and encapsulating the essence of her characters through very few words." Ages 12-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Holt's fifth and sixth grade years in Guam set the stage for this story told in a series of mini-chapters, each a lyrical vignette of island life. The narrator is Isabel, an eighth-grade girl living in the aftermath of her mother's suicide. She parents her seven-year-old sister Olivia and nine-year-old brother Frank, and shuttles back and forth between her Auntie's houses while her father drifts further and further away, spending his nights sleeping on the floor on the spot where his wife "died praying on her knees." Living each day with Isabel, readers taste the culture, language, and people of Guam while experiencing the deep sense of loss that each member of Isabel's family deals with differently. Readers also watch Isabel struggle with coming of age as she sees her local friends begin to notice boys and care about dating and the popularity of being fiesta queen, and learns to understand Western values through her American friend Mary Kelly. All the while she keeps the secret of Frank's growing violence to herself. When the sub-plots climax at once, Isabel is referred to a counselor and slowly learns to accept her mother's death and her own role in her family and culture. KLIATT Codes: J*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior high school students. 2003, Henry Holt, 308p.,
Thirteen-year-old Isabel, younger brother Frank, and little sister Olivia are all affected by their mother's suicide. First, their father makes them stay with Aunt Minerva on another part of Guam. For months the siblings try to carry on. Olivia wets the bed, and Isabel covers for her to avoid the wrath of their very religious aunt. When they return home, nothing seems the same. Their father sleeps on the floor where his wife died, refuses to let anyone sit in his wife's chair, and avoids his children. Isabel makes lists, worries, and tries to take care of everyone. Olivia keeps wetting the bed. Frank starts carving "I hate you" on the walls of his room. Their Auntie Bernadette, a healer and midwife, tries to help. Isabel is angry with her friend Roman and puzzled when her friend Teresita decides to run for fiesta queen. Isabel and her friends are starting to mature, and Isabel resents her mother for not being there. Frank progresses to carving on his body and eventually uses a razor blade, carving "I hat-" into his arm before losing consciousness. After Frank is hospitalized, the children begin seeing a counselor. Their father refuses counseling, but he and Isabel begin to communicate, and the family starts to heal. Holt, author of the award-winning My Louisiana Sky (Henry Holt, 1998/VOYA August 1998) and When Zachary Beaver Came to Town (1999/VOYA December 1999), integrates the exotic setting and realistic characters into an easily read yet complex story of a girl growing up, family problems, and suicide. VOYA Codes: 5Q 4P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; SeniorHigh, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, Henry Holt, 308p,
Isabel appears to be like every other teenager in her small town on the island of Guam. She has a pesky younger brother and sister, meddlesome aunts and a father who works all the time. But this story is about how she is very different from any other teenager—her life has been turned upside down by her mother's suicide. Suddenly thrown into the position of caring for her younger siblings and trying to understand what has happened for herself, Isabel shares with readers her struggles and journey to accepting her circumstances. Told in snapshot-like chapters, Isabel reveals her story piece by piece. We see her interact with her tomboy best friend, grow to see her best guy friend in a new light, deal with the changes of adolescence, worry about her younger brother's reclusiveness and reach out to her grieving father. With the help of a caring psychologist and numerous family members and friends, Isabel comes to understand not only her mother, but also herself. Holt weaves a captivating growing-up tale together with the Polynesian culture in a way that will provide teen readers with both a window to another culture and a mirror of the challenges of adolescence. 2003, Henry Holt and Company,
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-After the suicide of her mother, a 13-year-old in Guam struggles to keep her family together as she grapples with her own confusion and grief. An affirming story, suffused with atmosphere. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
In a series of exquisitely presented snapshots, a young teen struggles to cope with the aftermath of her mother’s suicide. Her grief-stricken father having effectively abdicated his responsibility, Isabel must mind the family store, from which she watches both helplessly and resentfully her brother Frank’s descent into his own brand of madness. Holt makes the most of her Guam setting, subtly and inexorably involving readers in a way of life utterly foreign to most of them and getting it so thoroughly under their skin that taking in the story is like dreaming of the tropics. Isabel narrates the story in tiny present-tense vignettes, the longest of which approaches three pages. This narrative technique takes readers in and out of memory, showing how Isabel’s mother’s depression had repercussions that began in the past and echo loudly into the present. It also enables the development of several subplots that parallel the primary narrative, introducing a colorful and unforgettable array of secondary characters, whose lives touch, support, and mirror Isabel’s. Stunningly beautiful. (Fiction. 10+)
From the Publisher
“Evocative . . . haunting . . . magic.” Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“Beautifully written.” School Library Journal, Starred Review
“Exquisitely presented . . . stunningly beautiful.” Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
“Heart-rending. . . . [Holt] has created an endearing, complicated narrator in Isabel; she manages to sound both lyrical and like the eighth grader she is.” The New York Times Book Review
“Holt's plain, direct prose belies the deep pain the narrator feels as she tries to understand her mother's life and death.” Bookpage
“Beautifully written, this tale reaches into the heart of Guam and touches gold.” Seattle Times
“[E]xtended families, unhurried lives, the wisdom of elders, the individual quirks and eccentricities and the deep love holding up the surface of everyday life will all be familiar to readers of Holt's previous work.” Times Picayune
Read an Excerpt
Keeper of the Night
A Dutiful DaughterMy mother died praying on her knees. Her rosary beads were still in her hands when we found her. She left no note, said no good-byes, gave no last hugs or kisses. Only the empty bottle of sleeping pills that had rolled under her bed proved that she'd meant to leave.I found her first. But I didn't know she was dead. I thought she was praying.That morning, I eased her door shut, tied on her apron, and made breakfast for my little brother and sister. I felt proud to scramble their eggs and butter their toast.Later I tied blue ribbons in Olivia's hair and dipped the comb into a glass of water before parting Frank's. I had no idea it was the first of many mornings I'd be doing that.KEEPER OF THE NIGHT. Copyright © 2003 by Kimberly Willis Holt.