We've just passed the mid-year mark and I challenged myself to read five Newberry and Printz awarded books. Each. This year. In March, I reviewed Terry Pratchett's Dodger and you haven't heard a peep out of me since. But honestly, I have been reading and to make up for falling behind, I'll feature one book a week for the next few weeks, starting with The Underneath, Kathi Appelt's Newberry honoree.
First, a word about book covers. I'm very influenced by them. I love animals and I enjoy humor and I saw both in this cover by David Small. Even though the blurb talked about the mean man who owns the dog, the tone of the artwork reassured me this would be a whimsical, light-hearted read.
Which is why I should not be trusted to judge books by their covers. The Underneath is a story of animal cruelty and although it's told beautifully, there's little humor in it. Ranger is the old hound chained underneath the house of Garface, a human with not one drop of compassion. Torturing animals seems to be Garface's one joy in life and Ranger gets the worst of it. When an abandoned mama cat has two kittens under Ranger's porch, he's overjoyed, yet terrified they'll be discovered. Appelt writes:
No father has ever been prouder of his brood. Ranger watched over his cat family like the pharaohs watched over the Nile, like the stars watched over the sleeping Earth, like the beach watched over the sea.
Appelt is no doubt, a gifted poet and she weaves a compelling, page-turning tale. Tension mounts as the kittens grow bolder and more curious. Despite Ranger's and their mama's warnings to never stray from underneath the house, it's only a matter of time before one of them is tempted by the sunlit yard where Garface is sure to see them.
I'll stop there and let you read the book to learn their fate. It's a tough read but worthwhile. Abuse happens and I admire Kathi Appelt for facing it head on.
To make up for this heavy review, next week, we'll look at something distinctly humorous: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. Which also features a hound. But this one is idolized.
And now, here's a rough sketch of the cover I might do for The Underneath. Animals hiding from a man with a gun shouts, "This book is apt to contain terrifying moments for animal characters." And it would probably be a marketing disaster! David Small's cover is way more appealing.
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist, and I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti at Open Book Literary.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor