Sarah has always been on the move. Her mother hates the cold, so every few months her parents pack their bags and drag her off after the sun. She's grown up lonely and longing for magic. She doesn't know that it's magic her parents are running from.
When Sarah's mother walks out on their family, all the strange old magic they have tried to hide from comes rising into their mundane world. Her father begins to change into something wild and beastly, but before his transformation is complete, he takes Sarah to her grandparents—people she has never met, didn't even know were still alive.
Deep in the forest, in a crumbling ruin of a castle, Sarah begins to untangle the layers of curses affecting her family bloodlines, until she discovers that the curse has carried over to her, too. The day she falls in love for the first time, Sarah will transform into a beast . . . unless she can figure out a way to break the curse forever.
About the Author
Cat Hellisen lives in Cape Town, South Africa. She is also the author of When the Sea Is Rising Red.
Read an Excerpt
By Cat Hellisen
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2015 Cat Hellisen
All rights reserved.
FLY AWAY, FLY AWAY
THE AIR WAS FULL of ice the night Sarah's mother packed all her bags and walked out. That was the thing Sarah remembered most. How it was so cold that the weathermen had said it might snow. She lay awake, listening for snow hushing against the roof—and instead she heard her parents arguing.
"I can't do this," her mother said. She was whispering so as not to wake her daughter. She never seemed to realize that Sarah was almost always awake. The smallest sounds could keep her from sleeping.
Sarah uncurled herself from her warm duvet, stretched out in the crisp air, and lay very still. Sometimes when she woke in the dark she would play little games with herself—games that she knew she should have already outgrown, so she never spoke about them to anyone. They were silly, childish things, and she knew enough to understand that there was no admitting to silly childish things when you were past a certain age. Sometimes in the dark she would pretend that she was a mouse, waiting for a snake to pass, and she would hold herself so still she could feel her own heartbeat vibrating her body. Sarah liked to think that night was the best time to work on staying silly and childish. Darkness always seemed more understanding about those sorts of things. More accommodating.
Tonight wasn't right for games, though. The night felt wrong, and it gave the unexpected cold a different bite, like a knife edge. It was the burr in her mother's voice, that sound of tears caught sticky in the throat—they gummed up her words.
Not good, Sarah thought. The very opposite of good, in fact. Softly, softly, she slipped her bare feet to the ground and padded to her door. Her toes were numb even against the springy wool of the carpet. She frowned and hugged her nightgown quickly around her. It hardly ever got this cold. And when it did, her parents would switch on the space heaters and keep the house warm enough to melt the butter on the bread.
Her mother hated the cold. Hated it fiercely. She gritted her teeth against it and would refuse to go outside if the temperature dropped. When winter came she cocooned herself in blankets and scarves, even as the heaters clicked and hissed the house warm.
Sarah opened the door to her room and peered out along the landing. The only light came from under her parents' bedroom door, and from a blue pool of moonlight under the small window at the far end of the passage. Her mother's voice was clearer now.
"I can't, Leon. I've tried—you know I have—but it's been long enough." Her mother sounded not so much sad as defeated. Sarah could picture her face, still and beautiful and expressionless. She was a woman who never let herself smile. Occasionally she would forget and the corners of her mouth would flit up for just one moment, and then she would remember herself, and her face would go calm and smooth as nothingness again. That was how she kept herself so very beautiful. Strong emotions leave their marks on a woman's face, she'd once said. "Never get sad, never get happy, never get angry."
But she was angry now, in a dull sort of way. Angry enough that Sarah could imagine the faintest lines of a frown pinching the skin of her mother's forehead.
"We'll move," her father said. His voice was rough, thick and choked up as tangled fur. "Someplace warmer—we'll go to the tropics—"
"It's not about the weather," her mother said. There was a thud. "Just hold this closed so I can get it—" A snap and a click. The sound of bags being struggled shut.
As if her mother were going on vacation to someplace with palm trees and colored fish that hung like ornaments in the slowly rising walls of the waves.
"Then what is it about?" But Sarah could hear that he already knew.
Sarah had discovered that while she liked to ask questions in the hopes that someone or other could answer them, adults liked to ask questions they already knew the answers to. She wasn't sure why exactly that was, and had finally decided that as people grew older, the more important something was the easier it became for them to forget. They had to keep asking as a way to help them remember.
There was a long silence, drawn out and stretched like a strand of bubblegum.
Sarah tiptoed along the landing toward her parents' room and wondered what flavor silence was, and if it grew hard and brittle if you threw it away, or if people sometimes stepped on wads of discarded silence and it stuck to the soles of their shoes and made their footfalls softer.
She stepped on the silences, and padded fox-quiet.
"I have to go," her mother said, instead of answering her father's question. "I can't stay and watch us falling apart, and watch it happening."
"You know what waits for you if you walk out of here. You can't just—"
A closet door banged, and then her mother's voice came soft, tired. "I know, Leon. That's why I'm leaving. Better that than to sit and watch you turn, to know there is nothing I can do to stop it." She took a gasping breath, and when she spoke again her voice had a thick sound, clogged up with tears. "And to know that one day the same thing is going to happen to my little bear ..."
Sarah paused. They were talking about her. Her mother expected something to happen to her, and a fiddlehead of apprehension unfurled in her chest.
"You're a coward."
She'd never heard her father say anything like this to her mother. Even when they did fight, he always withdrew himself, like a monster into a cave, and left her mother to work her own way through whatever had upset her. Sarah wondered how her mother would respond to this accusation.
Her mother only said, "I have been many things in my life. Now I choose to be something else."
"This is madness," her father said, but there was a serrated panic under his words. "You can't do this," he said. "There's no coming back. Please. You can't—"
The door swung inward, and Sarah was staring into her mother's face, which was still and cold as the night and unmarked by sadness or anger or hurt. If Sarah hadn't heard the tears in her voice earlier, she would have had no idea that her mother felt anything at all—until Sarah looked into her eyes, the only things that gave her away.
"Sarah." Her mother's dark eyes gleamed bird-bright. She looked like a small animal caught in the headlights of a car—half terrified and half resigned to its death.
Sarah had never seen her like this, not in all the winters she could think of. And winters were when her mother was at her worst, her love at its most brittle.
Her mother swallowed, began to stammer something, then shook her head, the fear fading from her eyes and being replaced by a glassy blankness instead. "You should be in bed. It's late, and it's cold out." She stepped past Sarah and went down the unlit stairs, the tail of her winter-blue coat flapping about her calves, her matching scarf wound tight around her throat like she was trying to stanch a wound, her bag thumping after her on its ridiculous little wheels.
"Merete," her father said, but her mother never even looked back at the sound of her name.
After the door had closed—gently, because Sarah's mother hardly ever slammed things—her father sighed and rubbed one hand across his chest like he'd eaten too fast. His face twisted, just once, a terrifying snarl of despair and rage, and then it was smooth again.
He was also dressed, though it was late. They'd been up the whole time, Sarah guessed, having an argument as chilly and quiet as the stars themselves. "Your mother's right," he said, as if she had not just walked out the door. He smoothed his heartburn out of his chest. "It's cold. Go back to bed—we'll talk about all this in the morning."
"I can't go back to sleep now." Sarah said the words very slowly, worried that she'd somehow startle this man, this father who wasn't acting a thing like her father. He didn't even care that his wife had just walked out in the middle of the night. Had she left him? Left her. "I can't—" She pointed down the stairs instead, waiting for the flood to build up. Her heart was fluttering, hurting, it was beating so fast. "Mom just packed and walked out of the house, and you want me to go to bed? Is she going to be all right? What happened? Do you know where she's going?" The questions tumbled over themselves trying to get out of her mouth.
"The power must have tripped," her father said, as if he hadn't even heard Sarah at all. "That's why the heaters went." He flicked the hall light switch up and down to show her, though Sarah didn't care. She'd always been able to see well in the dark. Then her father coughed. It was a hard, tearing noise, like he was going to rip apart right before her eyes. The coughing fit shuddered all down his body, shaking his bones about.
For a moment Sarah thought it might be all the tears he was trying to pretend weren't inside him, but when she reached out to touch his shoulder he pushed her hand away.
As the coughing finished, her father straightened again, eyes streaming and one hand still clutched over his mouth like he was frightened he was going to cough up his own lungs. Without speaking, he raced down the stairs.
Sarah's heart soared right up into her throat. He was going to burst out into the night and call her mother back. It had just been a stupid little fight that had gone a step too far, and now it was over, and her father would draw her mother back into the warm nest of home, and they would all go to sleep, and this would be a bad dream. Just tangles to be brushed away in the morning.
There was a clicking from downstairs in the kitchen, and the hallway light flooded on. The house—which had been remarkably silent—began its regular whir and hum.
Her heart plunged back down, and Sarah stared at her toes, frozen nubs in the deep blue of the hall carpet.
Around her, the air began to warm.
Sarah wondered if she should run after her mother—running was, after all, the only thing she was really good at, the only thing that ever got her noticed at school or after school. But her feet, which could strike the earth so hard, push her through the air like a racing deer—they seemed now to be weighted with lead, too heavy to lift, sinking her into the ocean of the carpet.
* * *
Her parents had always moved around a lot. Partly it was because of her father's work, but her mother had called it sun-chasing, so Sarah knew there'd been more to it than just following the money. Not that there was very much money. Her mother normally worked from home, sewing clothes and making alterations, and her father went off to do whatever it was that fathers did. He'd always come back smelling like metal and diesel, and he would wash his hands with a special, strong soap-cream that her mother bought in bulk. He would clean under his nails and around them, grooming himself with catlike fastidiousness before he would come to dinner.
Sometimes Sarah would sit on the edge of the bath and talk to him while he picked his nails clean. She would ask, "Why do you have to take so long? It doesn't take me that long."
"Somehow, I don't think going to school leaves you quite as filthy as my job does."
And Sarah would say, "Shows what you know," and her father would laugh and say, "Indeed."
When she looked at the weirdness of her parents compared to her classmates' parents, it would make her feel a little bit better to know that at least her mother and father's sole ambition in life wasn't just to make money, money, and more money. They didn't have a shiny new car and expensive clothes or a big house with rolling green lawns.
And it didn't matter, because her parents were at least interesting. They did things. They packed up when they got bored and they left, like migrating swallows. They weren't tied down to their fancy cars and heirloom furniture. It was one of the things she told herself every time the plastic storage containers came out of the garage, every time the contents of her home were packed away and labeled. It was that or let the sinking feeling take over and pull her feet-first into the ground and bury her.
Sarah had made herself become used to changing schools. She could even tell the signs: when the wind turned, and the first acorn caps began gathering in the gutters. When the martins skimmed and wheeled and patterned the sky with their dances, she would know that the move was coming soon.
She would know to gather her library books and turn them in.
It wasn't always seasonal. It was just a knowing. Sometimes she'd be walking home from school, kicking the grass, and a dandelion head would burst and scatter just so. The seeds would drift up in front of her, and from the geometry of their flight she would know.
When she got home, her mother would be sorting all their life into boxes.
Sarah never went out of her way to make friends anymore, or stand out in her classes. She made sure she was an adequate student and would spend her breaks catching up on the work she'd missed.
When you're constantly changing schools, there's always work to be caught up. Her only confidants were the toys she still kept, and they never told her that everything was going to be all right. They would just look at her glassily and smile their tight-sewn smiles.
* * *
All this meant was that the next morning, Sarah got up and went to school, and no one knew her mother had flown away, had left her and her father alone in the boring rabbit-hutch house they were renting at the moment. For the other kids in her class, nothing had changed.
Sarah tried to pretend that they were right, that nothing really had changed. If I believe it hard enough ... she thought to herself, but didn't give in to completing the wish. That way, if it didn't come true, she wouldn't feel that double slap of disappointment. That not only was her mother gone, but also there was no magic in the world.
In the books that Sarah liked to read, children who had to move around a lot seemed to always end up in strange houses with extra doors that went to new lands, tunnels and connecting passages, or boarded-up rooms that held treasures, ghosts, mysteries. Old houses filled with secrets and strangeness, gardens tangled up with adventures. The reality was that every house Sarah had ever moved into had been almost exactly the same. It was true that some of them had been single-stories with big gardens, others had been double-stories, some had neat little squares of lawn, and others had gravel driveways or concrete backyards, but the essence of the houses had always been the same. They were all clean and modern, with enough plugs to satisfy her parents, built-in cupboards, and neat kitchens with all the conveniences expected of them.
It's hard to find magic in houses like that. And Sarah wanted magic, wanted to know that there was something more to her life than packing up and moving, and going to new schools, and not bothering to learn the names of the people around her because what did it matter, really.
The first day after her mother fled, Sarah held on to her hope that this was just temporary and that she'd be back before the week was out. But there was no mother that day. Or the next. Or the next. The little hope shriveled up and fell away, and Sarah swallowed down that ugly, salty taste in her mouth and held her head higher. She let the sky lick her eyes dry and the wind kiss her welcome.
Her father went to work as if nothing had changed, and the boxes gathered dust in the garage. Sarah almost wanted to come home one day to find him packing up the house, because at least that would be something normal. Or if not packing, then looking for her mother, even if it meant printing up posters of her mother's startled face in black and white, with a phone number and a reward offered. Although Sarah wasn't sure that would exactly work for getting back a parent.
Instead, the laundry gathered in the baskets and overflowed, the dust bunnies multiplied under the beds and couches, the cutlery tarnished, the weeds grew in the gutter alongside the house. Sarah discovered that untended houses very quickly give in to neglect. She'd never understood how much her mother had done while she'd been in class and her dad was at work. She'd always sort of assumed that the places just looked after themselves.
Reality was very different, Sarah realized, after using the last of the clean dishes for the dusty remains of the very last box of cereal. Her father had stopped eating, had seemed to forget that children needed food.
"We need groceries," Sarah said to him that night over a boiled potato gone mushy on the outside but still woody in the middle.
Her father was dressed in his stained blue overalls and watching television. His hands and clothes left inky smears over the fabric. Under his ragged nails, the dirt gathered black. When he turned at the sound of her voice, there was a flash of something in his eyes, an empty green flare. He was unshaven, and his beard bristled over his face, like he'd glued clippings from a doormat all over his cheeks and chin. "Hmm," he said, but he reached into his pocket to pull out his worn leather wallet and peeled out some crumpled notes for her. They were as grubby as he was. Her father held them out, and Sarah slipped down from the chair and padded over nervously to take them.
Excerpted from Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen. Copyright © 2015 Cat Hellisen. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Fly Away, Fly Away,
Chapter 2: An Improbable Boy,
Chapter 3: The Not-a-Forest,
Chapter 4: The Disappearing Act,
Chapter 5: To the Castle,
Chapter 6: The Key of Ivory,
Chapter 7: In Captivity,
Chapter 8: You Can't Lift Curses With Kisses,
Chapter 9: We Must Be Enemies,
Chapter 10: In Which Most of the Truth Is Told,
Chapter 11: The Key of Horn,
Chapter 12: Woods-Walking,
Chapter 13: Invisible Fireworks,
Chapter 14: Hunting the Wren,
Chapter 15: Toward the Within,
Chapter 16: The Way We End,
Chapter 17: After,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As much as I tried (and boy did I try) I just could not get into this book. I struggled immensely with the pacing; as well as, the expeditious ending that left too many loose ends. While not a terrible book, Beastkeeper just didn't captivate me and I fear this is because the book was perhaps "too young" for me? Although, to be frank, "young Claudia" would probably not have enjoyed the book to boot. ___________________________________ WHAT I LIKED + The world building and all the fantastical elements in Beastkeeper consistently impressed me. The approach is ominous, whimsical, at times bleak and cheery, but it was the moments that were spent within the forest that really stood out; as well as, Beastkeeper’s stunning cover art! In fact, the cover art alone tells a story of its own – I love it! THINGS THAT MADE GO HMMM. . . - At first glance, Beastkeeper showed great potential. The story opened up with plenty of magic, bewitchment, spells, curses, self-discovery and tragedy; yet, while this was all great and grand, Beastkeeper’s initial intrigue sadly gave way to a festering pile of uninspiring dullness that sabotaged everything that could have been remotely good. To boot, the lore and logic that seemingly pushes the story along was not cohesive and simply didn’t hold the overarching storyline sufficiently well. In the same vein, I simply was not able to see or grasp the similarities between this story and that of Beauty and the Beast! - The characters in Beastkeeper were utterly forgettable — which is wild given everything that they go through. Granted, there was some depth as a lot of time was spent in Sarah’s head, but despite this aspect, all the characters (protagonist included) came across as one-dimensional and did not make up for the vapid plot. - The only thing Beastkeeper has going for itself is its unique voice and beautiful writing – it comes across as almost lyrical, to say the least; yet, while I do appreciate an invigorating read where an author’s choice of words can be very powerful and awe-inspiring, there are times where relying on an excessive amount of metaphors and similes does take a toll on the reader; in fact, mind-numbing is the word that comes to mind. There were many instances within the prose where the metaphors simply did not make sense or connect with the story and this main quibble tainted my overall reaction to the book. I am certain that I am the minority here as many readers will thoroughly enjoy this stylized method of writing and storytelling. However, I was just too exhausted from slogging through the endless amounts of similes and metaphors to muster any sort of excitement or interest. Full Review @ http://www.mysoulcalledlife.com/2016/10/03/book-review-beastkeeper-by-cat-hellisen/
I really loved this story! This story is about family, love, jealousy and lessons learned. I really love the pace of the story and all the characters involved, they all showed to have believed in love at some point. I really recommend it!
Beastkeeper, a Beauty and the Beast retelling in which the Beast is the girl and fairy tale rules are broken. Sarah's life is good. Her parents love each other and they absolutely adore her. She likes that her parents are different. They aren't tied down by money and see no reason to buy fancy cars or big houses. She's been moving around all her life for a reason she doesn't necessarily understand but has accepted. Sarah's gotten used to moving and can even predict the exact day her parents will pack up from the geometry of dandelion seeds' flight in the air. Everything is good. Until the day her mom walks out. The shock is so big that the only reason Sarah can come up with is: the cold. Her dad becomes depressed. He stops talking, stop taking care of Sarah, and forgets to eat. This is where the beauty starts. The magic of the book is tied with the dark elements. "She lost her mother to the cold and the winds, and now her father was also lost, lost to some strange sickness that ate away the inside of his head until he wasn't anything like her father at all, just a beast wearing his skin like a coat." The writing is gorgeous. I loved how the author presented real problems as magic. Depression being her father's transformation and the cold as a symbol of a relationship without love. This book is dark. It's about unhappily ever afters. It tells the story of how jealousy turns into a big game of revenge that got so passionate it became impossible to end. Beastkeeper shows the realistic side of fairy tales. Where people's dreams are the worst thing that could happen to them. Where people fall in love with the image of true love but not with the actual person. It's about the dark side of human nature. The author calls out these conditions and intertwines it with magic. THIS IS MY MOST FAVORITE PART. Since this is a middle grade book there's no big emphasis on romance for the protagonist. But the summary obviously promises you something, I mean that's the big part of the story. This curse looms over Sarah's head. If I could describe this book in one word, it would be bittersweet. Sarah sees the ugliness of humans and deals with it like a brave little girl. It is amazing and SO BEAUTIFUL. I can't emphasize how beautiful this book is! This is a book about the cruelty of loyalty, love, and forgiveness. I highly recommend this to everyone. It's NOT your usual happily ever all but has the satisfaction of fairy tales and retellings.