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In BEASTKEEPER, Cat Hellisen gives readers an original fairy tale that perfectly melds traditional mythmaking with a thoroughly modern approach.

Cat Hellisen is relatively new to the fantasy scene, but her novels (such as WHEN THE SEA IS RISING RED) have already been praised for their strong writing and bold new approach to classic themes and tropes of fantasy. Her new novel, BEASTKEEPER, should win her even more appreciative fans, as she explores the age-old concept of the fairy tale curse with a refreshingly modern approach.

Hellisen's protagonist is Sarah, a girl who has spent her whole life looking for magic --- and so far been sorely disappointed. In the books and stories she reads, children whose families move from place to place --- just like hers --- eventually find magic lurking in the attic or behind a closet wall. But not in Sarah's case --- her family just moves every time her mother’s hatred of the cold gets too difficult for her to bear. Sarah's come to terms with the perpetual uprooting, but when Sarah's mother finally leaves the family altogether, she knows that this represents a new kind of rootlessness. She imagines that "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."

In BEASTKEEPER, Cat Hellisen gives readers an original fairy tale that perfectly melds traditional mythmaking with a thoroughly modern approach.

Alas, Sarah's mother does not return and Sarah's father begins to . . . change. He seems not to care about whether Sarah attends school or eats a proper dinner --- and he's developed a taste for seriously undercooked meat. Is it any wonder that Sarah tries to escape her home life and spend time in the almost-forest near her home? There she meets an odd and elusive boy, Alan, who speaks in riddles and offers Sarah a glimpse at something that might look a lot like magic.

When Sarah's father drops her off with the grandparents she's never met, however, Sarah soon begins to regret her desire for magic. It turns out that the last three generations of Sarah's family have all been subject to a complicated set of curses within curses, curses that may eventually destroy Sarah's life too. Is there any way for Sarah to lift the curse --- or at least escape its hold on her future life?

BEASTKEEPER offers readers a complicated take on traditional fairy tale themes such as humans cursed to become animals, but she writes about these fantasy elements with a truly modern approach, one that takes a thoughtful and often pragmatic look at romantic love, in particular. Far from suggesting that true love can lift a curse, like it does in "Beauty and the Beast," BEASTKEEPER suggests that love is neither perfect nor permanent, and that happy endings are hardly the end of the story. One character tells Sarah, "No story ever comes to an end, at least not one so neat. . . . They do not tell you what happens when the children have eaten their way through the witch's treasures and face another starveling winter, when the glass slipper no longer fits the crone's swollen foot, when the beauty doesn't fall in love with her beastly prince." BEASTKEEPER doesn't create --- or even accept --- easy answers or happy endings, which makes it the perfect fairy tale for sophisticated readers who nevertheless still long for magic in their own lives.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on February 24, 2015

by Cat Hellisen

  • Publication Date: February 3, 2015
  • Genres: Fantasy, Youth Fiction
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
  • ISBN-10: 0805099808
  • ISBN-13: 9780805099805