February 4, 2015

Beastkeeper - Cat Hellisen

Beastkeeper Cat Hellisen book cover
Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication Date: February 3, 2015
Source/Format: Publisher (Thanks!) || ARC
[I received this book from the publisher. This in no way affects the opinions expressed in my review.]

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. (Goodreads)

Beastkeeper is an upper middle grade novel that draws a lot of inspiration from fairy tales when it comes to the style, the characters, and the plot. While it got really compelling towards the latter two thirds, the first third suffered from the effects of being chapters written solely for the purpose for setting the stage and introducing the characters. While having a proper set-up is essential in any novel, and surely younger readers will not find this as noticeable, older readers (like myself) will definitely pick up on it right off the bat. Still, it was certainly worth the read as Beastkeeper tells a story that’s whimsical and eerie and perfectly fantastical.

Main heroine Sarah is pretty vanilla as a character, your typical young girl with a vivid imagination and sweet personality. However, three things happen in succession in her life that will intrigue readers: (1) Her mother leaves her and her father, (2) She meets a mysterious boy in her Not-a-Forest and (3) Her father leaves her alone to live with a grandmother she’s never met. It is when the third thing happens – when her father abandons her – that things really get interesting, as the magical aspect of Beastkeeper comes into play. 

Hellisen gets real inventive when it comes to the magic at play, whipping up an origin story for the curse that’s on Sarah’s family that is truly something out of a classic fairy tale. The best part? Hellisen is not afraid to explore what happens when things don’t fall into place for that happily ever after. If you’re expecting to finish feeling utterly satisfied, you might if you’re willing to accept that sometimes, happily ever after will only be partially true. It is, perhaps, what I personally liked best about this story and what really enhances a true fairy tale feel (and not the Disney stuff most of us grew up on).

Even though it started out a little awkwardly, Beastkeeper turned out to be a surprisingly good read. It’s a little darker than expected, but that personally makes it seem like it was written in the vein of a real fairy tale. While it wouldn’t necessarily be a middle grade read that will appeal to all (particularly younger, easily disturbed readers), it’s definitely a well-written, original novel that I really enjoyed.


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