The Grief Keeper Review

The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante

Seventeen-year-old Marisol Morales and her little sister Gabi are detainees of the United States government. They were caught crossing the U.S. border, to escape the gang violence in their country after their brother was murdered. When Marisol learns that the old family friend who had offered them refuge in America has died and they are going to be sent home, they flee. Seventeen-year-old Marisol Morales and her little sister Gabi are detainees of the United States government. They were caught crossing the U.S. border, to escape the gang violence in their country after their brother was murdered. When Marisol learns that the old family friend who had offered them refuge in America has died and they are going to be sent home, they flee.

They hitchhike, snagging a ride with an unassuming woman who agrees to drive them to New Jersey, but when Marisol wakes up in D.C. she learns the woman is actually a government agent. Indranie Patel has a proposal for Marisol: she wants Marisol to be a Grief Keeper, someone who will take another’s grief into their body. It’s a dangerous experimental study, but if Marisol agrees she and Gabi will be allowed to stay in the United States. If the experiment fails the girls will be sent home, which is a death sentence. Things become more complicated when Marisol meets Rey, the wealthy daughter of a D.C. Senator, and the girl she’s helping to heal. Marisol likes Rey’s short hair and sarcastic attitude. But she didn’t expect the connection from their shared grief to erupt into a powerful love.

Suddenly being forced from the United States isn’t just a matter of life and death, but a matter of the heart.

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The title of the book was what caught my eye first, then it was the plot and I just had to preorder it and read it. And boy, this book packed its punches and hit close to home (I was going to put a disclaimer to clarify which parts did and didn’t, but then realised I was saying way more than I felt comfortable with and therefore I just want to say I haven’t experienced everything in the book, but it isn’t something far removed in some areas for me).

Being bilingual, I usually do not like much books that throw words in a different language just for the sake of (I don’t mean calling a particular item of clothing or a dish by their name in that language, we call a taco a taco. I mean the adding foreign words for the sake of making it feel exotic, and it really peeves me off when it is a story including Spanish words), so I was wary about that happening here. It also breaks the continuity for me since the switch between Spanish/English breaks as I read sometimes if there’s that gap. However, as I read this, the way it uses Spanish was right. It was the perfect way of how my brain fills in gaps of language, how it processes, it didn’t disrupt or break continuity or annoy me. Instead it just reminded me how much I still have preference for some words in Spanish or how certain words don’t really translate well one way or the other.

As for the characters and the plot, I am the older sister and have a younger sister who did some of the things Gabi did (some almost to the T. *sigh*), and Marisol felt raw, protective, real. It was also like discovering myself as I read this. Because a lot of how Marisol copes with the world and her not breaking and not falling whereas Rey does, it was exactly how I work, how you’re brought up. And the contrast I feel in the UK, Marisol was feeling in her own experience in the US. I felt seen in this book, and as if it was revealing deeper parts of what it is to be Latinx.

The concept of Grief Keeper was mesmerising in itself and Rey’s story was also very nteresting, the dynamics, the way it all worked out was delightful to read. Slow burn, slow build up, intense feelings, “translation” and cultural differences making it more interesting.

Yes, I know Marisol isn’t from Mexico, but a lot of what she experienced was familiar and I could easily fill in gaps. The book wasn’t a shock to my system or a surprise, it was just “the truth” (a sad one sometimes) but it did so in a good way. I didn’t feel like the truth was just for plot or entretainment, it felt raw, it felt like it was being written from the heart, or close to it.

Beautiful melancholic book, with good Latinx representation, a lot of pondering on grief (yes, apparently I like books that touch on grief, sorry, I do, it has always been something that interests me, something that pulls me close) and working out that grief. Great use of language and wording and all the elements that make the characters. Highly recommended.

A Pocketful of Stars Review

A Pocketful of Stars by Aisha Bushby

Safiya and her mum have never seen eye to eye. Her mum doesn’t understand Safiya’s love of gaming and Safiya doesn’t think they have anything in common. As Safiya struggles to fit in at school she wonders if her mum wishes she was more like her confident best friend Elle. But then her mum falls into a coma and, when Safiya waits by her bedside, she finds herself in a strange alternative world that looks a bit like one of her games. And there’s a rebellious teenage girl, with a secret, who looks suspiciously familiar . . .

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This wasn’t a gift from a publisher, but rather a hand me down from Stephanie Burgis, which I ended up lending around before I read it.

I seem to have a penchant for stories about grief. And of hope. A Pocketful of Stars is a bit of both (or rather quite a lot). Safiya is struggling to get along with her mum, who to her doesn’t seem to understand what she likes, and instead is pushing her to do what ehr mum wants.

But after a bad argument, a week later her mum is in a coma and Safiya is double guessing herself. The classic “if I hadn’t done x, this wouldn’t have happened and if I had done y it would’ve been okay”. And part of it is because her being the daughter may not know what medical condition her mum has or anything.

Somehow, this whole if this and that starts a “game”. Into a quest of dinign items that trigger memories of a young woman in a similar mind space and situation as Safiya and her mum. It becomes a race for Safiya, a lot of superstition and a lot of gaming, of trying to find the best, as maybe it will revert what happened to her mum and wake her from the coma.

At the same time, Safiya’s best friend “grows” up a little quicker than Safiya is comfortable with. Not in the sense of her not wanting to grow up, but rahter her friend being immature and calling it “growing up” (when you’re an adult you cringe about this type of attittude but we all did some kind of thing attempting to be more grown up and actually acting very childish).

It was an interesting story, I was intrigued, however it is a story laced with grief and emotional growth. And as such it talks about death, illness and a coma. So read when you’re in a mood that you can cope with the theme of it.

Words in Deep Blue Review

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Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

This is a love story.
It’s the story of Howling Books, where readers write letters to strangers, to lovers, to poets.
It’s the story of Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie. They were best friends once, before Rachel moved to the sea.
Now, she’s back, working at the bookstore, grieving for her brother Cal and looking for the future in the books people love, and the words they leave behind.

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This is a book about grief, and about the power of words. And as such it was a beautiful read. It took me a few chapters to really get into it, but once I did, I kept wanting to read, and I wished for a Letter Library close by.

As I read it, I was reminded of all the times I’ve found little gems in library books or second-hand ones, one of them contained a dollar bill, another had a letter, some have had receipts or train tickets, and there have been beautiful dedications or author signatures on them. The joys of used books indeed.

But it isn’t just about books, it is about processing grief (not just the kind of loosing someone but also of dreams broken and lost) and living as best as you can, a bit like connecting the dots between the you before the event and the you that exists now, and it was beautiful.

It definitely shows the power and beauty of words in it. Even if I wanted to smack Henry with a book at times, and Rachel too. But it was cute, romantic and sweet. A light read despite the heavy topics.

Moon recommends

After I finished Words in Deep Blue I couldn’t help but think of Letters to the Lost, so that is my recommendation this time around.