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The Underneath

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  5,881 ratings  ·  1,324 reviews
There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road.

A calico cat, about to have kittens, hears the lonely howl of a chained-up hound deep in the backwaters of the bayou. She dares to find him in the forest, and the hound dares to befriend this cat, this feline, this creature he is supposed to hate. They...more
Hardcover, 313 pages
Published May 6th 2008 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
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The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsThe Graveyard Book by Neil GaimanSavvy by Ingrid LawThe Underneath by Kathi AppeltThe Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
2009 Newbery Contenders
4th out of 92 books — 577 voters
The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsBreaking Dawn by Stephenie MeyerThe Host by Stephenie MeyerThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann ShafferCity of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
Best Books of 2008
98th out of 1,358 books — 6,760 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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I review lots of books. Oodles of caboodles of books. And a lot of the time my thoughts can basically be boiled down to very simple sentences. "Me like book. Book good." or conversely "Me no like book. Book bad." It takes a very special story to knock me out of this frame of mind. When you pick up a copy of The Underneath by Kathi Appelt and you read the words, "A novel like this only comes around every few decades," on the back cover you're forgiven if you scoff a little. Uh-huh. Suuuuuure it d...more
Nov 26, 2008 Joe rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Passive-aggressive gift givers ("I'm giving you a gift... but it sucks!")
There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for awhile, and then abandoned on the side of the road.

This is the breathtaking opening sentence of The Underneath - a sentence that has already been over-quoted and will probably lose its luster once it is revealed as The Great Deceptor. What follows this ingenious sentence, however, is not nearly as captivating.

Kathi Appelt's asinine debut novel is inexplicably receiving buzz as a contender for the Newbery Medal. Perhaps after...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Monica Edinger
Wow. What a book. What a story. What an amazing piece of writing.

Now I admit it took me a while to read this one. While I definitely enjoyed sad animal stories as a child, now, with the occasional exception, I avoid them. And so, when I received a gorgeously packaged ARC of Kathi Appelt’s The Underneath, I admired it (as it is handsomely illustrated by David Small) , and then read the flap. “An abandoned calico cat, about to have kittens, hears the lonely howl of a chained-up dog….” Nope. Not fo...more
Roxanne Hsu Feldman
I cannot give this a rating since I cannot decide how I feel about it. On the one hand, I think the author has succeeded brilliantly in creating a world, a mood, a sense of place, a unique tone, a great bunch of palpable characters, a mesmerizing tale. There is this rippling effect, formed with recurrences of phrases, that makes me feel I am in the middle of that mysterious swampy land and that the land itself engulfs me. There is the unflinching treatment of cruelty and evil embodied by Gar Fac...more
I gave this award winning book to my daughter a few years ago when she still found reading more of a chore than a joy. I thought, here's a warm fuzzy story about a dog and a cat who become friends; it's an award winner; it must be good; she'll love it. Well, she didn't make it through the first 20 pages before discarding it. I recently picked it up looking for a quick read and couldn't have been more surpised by what I found. I hadn't read more than a few chapters before I recognized it as somet...more
I'm not really sure how to explain my feelings about this book. While I recognize that the writing is compelling and builds a great deal of suspense, I was just annoyed throughout the book. I'm also not convinced that this will be an attractive book to kids, who are the targeted audience, as far as marketing efforts go. And of course, the book has been nominated for the National Book Award and has all sorts of rumblings for the Newbery. I can only say I hope it doesn't win the Newbery. It would...more
Jul 07, 2008 Donalyn rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: every reader on Earth
I am not a good enough writer to tell you why you must read The Underneath.

I read a lot of books and I like most of them, but honestly, there are few that set themselves apart as books both magical and haunting, so well-crafted that the prose makes my heart ache with longing to read more and more.

The story is a simple one-- a calico cat, abandoned in the woods when she is pregnant, discovers the shack of a violent, broken man, known as Gar Face, who is so evil he shot his own dog. That dog, Rang...more
Julia L.
A novel for children, young people and yes, an old gal like me. I found this story to be almost poetic in its telling. It certainly is full of the cliches of poetry: music of nature, the sound of great symphonies heard in the wind of trees, the kettle-drum rage of a storm and the purity of death coming to take one away from the pain of living when it is necessary... in the shape of a glowing hummingbird.
Its short chapters seem to me to be purposfully written that way to carry us along quickly f...more
I loved this. I wasn't sure about all of the "magical" themes because I was planning to read it aloud to my 10-year-old and my eight-year-old. But we really enjoyed it. They were so enthralled by the story and the rhythm of the prose is really captivating. I think this book is best enjoyed when read aloud. So many children's books are written so awkwardly that they're just not fun to read aloud. So glad we tried this one and I'm planning to read other books of hers my girls! Warning animal lover...more
Wow. The Underneath is one of the best children's books I've read in a long time.
How'd she do that?

I'll be posting an interview of Kathi Appelt asking her just that.

Here's the link:

Please take a look at my interview of Kathi Appelt, author of THE UNDERNEATH, on the
Imaginary Blog.


It's good, if you're in the mood to be patient with poeticness. Contrary to what this seems like from the cover, you don't have to be an animal lover. Actually, if you are an animal lover, it might be too much for you--or if you're someone who gets very emotional about books.

Usually, when I read a book, I have a pretty secure feeling that even though terrible things might happen to the characters, it's all going to turn out all right in the end.

But when the worst happens early in the book, you j...more
This book had me crying on page one. It's a dark story about an abused dog, an abandoned cat, and her kittens who come together to try to forge a life under the porch of a creepy, damaged man who enjoys killing things. It's powerful and disturbing and there's an awful lot of death for a children's novel.

The story meanders back and forth between 1000 years ago and today. It has an interesting rhythm to it as the story builds to its ultimate climax. I loved the writing, I loved (most of) the chara...more
It is hard to know where to begin in describing this book as it has some many different pieces, a survival story, a love story, a myth, told from many different perspectives. It is getting rave reviews and the writing is lyrical, the story line original and complex but also appealing. Who can resist a sweet old dog who has been badly treated or two kittens just learning how very cruel the world can be. Then there's the 1,000 year old snake with her memories of love and loss, her desire for reven...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Cheryl in CC NV
Ok, if you're looking for a cute animal story, or if you need straight-forward prose and a plot that moves right along, look elsewhere. If you enjoy beautiful metaphors and poetic rhythms and tragedy and glory and myth, read this book. Whether you're 9 or 99, you can enjoy and be moved by it. It's a little bit like Neil Gaiman, actually.

About the repetition in this that some GR readers complain about - think of the way the chorus in a pop song is repeated, or the theme in a jazz improv. I perso...more
Nov 18, 2008 Kristi rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: unclear
Hmmm, couldn't decide whether to give this 1 star or 5. A lyrically written book however devastating the words may be. Rumor has it that this might win the Newbery this year (why I read it). I can't imagine ever giving this book to a kid. There's child abuse, animal abuse, animal death, betrayal, every bad thing a human could do to another human or animal. Hard to read if you are a dog/cat lover. Can't imagine who this book was written for....however well done the writing.
Aug 01, 2009 Betsy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Betsy by: Jen Sullivan
Fabulous Young Adult book. I will later post an excerpt about "memory being like a soft blanket..."

"Memory is a slippery thing. When something terrible happens to you, like the loss of someone you love, like the loss of a mother or a father, or perhaps a twin sister or an old hound, memory can turn into a soft blanket that hides you from the loss." Kathi Appelt
Patti Richards
Where to begin with this powerful story of pain, suffering, betrayal, love and redemption? The most obvious place is underneath the porch of the tilting house where Ranger lives with the calico cat and then cares for her two kittens, Sabine and Puck. But that’s not where the story begins or takes the reader; it goes way back to a time when shape shifting animals take on human forms for love and ancient people still hear the voices of the trees. This powerful telling made me stop after just a few...more
I know I can't do justice to this book. I've waited several days since reading it to write my review, and I still don't feel up to the task. How can I convey the beautiful writing? One of the reviewers on the back says this book "reads like a ballad sung." I agree! I think it would be an amazing book to read aloud. Each chapter is like a lyrical poem, written in prose, that could stand on its own. Yet together all of the chapters work together to tell two stories that take place years apart but...more
Appelt, Kathi. 2008. The Underneath.

The Underneath is a novel that I would have avoided (at all costs) as a kid. I was a wimp. Big-time. Seeing the dog and two kittens on the cover? That would have made me suspicious or wary from the get go. Reading that it is for folks who love, "Sounder, Shiloh, and The Yearling" would have sealed the deal. I wouldn't have gone near this one. No way. No how.

As an adult, however, how can I help but fall in love with The Underneath? It's beautiful. It's simply b...more
This Newbery honor book has some of the most lush, descriptive, poetic, gorgeous, rich, and alive writing I have read. While it is a book for older children, it feels like one of those books my high school English teacher made me analyze to find deep symbolism and hidden meaning. I'm just glad I don't have to write a paper about it. I cannot believe I loved a book with cats and dogs and snakes and alligators as main characters, I'm not really into "animal" books. I had no idea what I was getting...more
"Gar face tugged at the old hound.The dog coughed,and few feet he stumbled.No matter. The man pulled at the chain." I LOVE this book. It is a very emotinal book, it made me cry in some of the parts. This book is really meaningful to me because I am an animal lover, and this book talks about animals and how they get beat up by thier owners, and stuff like that. This book will keep you turning pages because if you start reading it you will want to find out whats next and keep reading and reading a...more
"There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road."

Be prepared for this sort of gloom throughout.

There are some powerful moments; there are times when the writing grated on my nerves, although I had the sense that perhaps an oral telling would have made the repeated phrases more palatable. Chapters are the two-page type that flip around wildly (in some cases, between either end of a thousand-year span). Endure, and it will...more
The Underneath is a few stories that intertwine amongst each other. I see the first as a pregnant cat who befriends a lonesome hound dog in the deep of the Bayou. The second lesser known story is Gar Face and how this abused boy grows up to be just as abusive, violent man. The third story is an ancient story of a serpent who can shape shift into a human and becomes entrapped into a jar longing for the love of her daughter. This book explores darkness, love and loss in a very deep moving way. I r...more
Mandy Laferriere
Part fairy tale, part legend, part animal adventure, this book defies categorization. It's certainly not for everyone, but I guess it was for me, because I can't stop thinking about it. All of my emotions while reading this book weren't good, and there were a couple of places where I just couldn't take any more sad, but I kept going. The writing is lyrical--very poetic and flowery. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not as much. But at all times while I was reading this, I was feeling SOMETHING. Sca...more
My daughter read this book in school and went on and on about it for weeks. And, like a good mother, I responded with, "uh huh, that's nice dear" while really thinking about other things.

Then I bought her a copy and decided to read it myself. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn't believe my daughter liked it so much because she is an insane animal lover. Her whole world revolves around knowing and preserving every animal species alive today.

But this is a good story, and probably more realis...more
Oh my. Oh my, oh my. I'm in love. Judging by the huge list of glowing reviews in the front flap, I had mixed expectations diving in. But boy, oh boy, was I wrong. Boy, oh boy. The story is written in a poetic fashion, but you know what? It doesn't really seem like it's trying too hard to be poetic. I got the impression that the author didn't sit at the keyboard and think for 2 hours about what she was going to write to make it good. She just let her thoughts flow, and whenever she thought of a p...more
Tami Roberts
5th-8th Grade (Independent reading/Language Arts focus book)

Kathi Appelt’s words create a very clear image in the mind of the reader while she tells the stories of a cat and her kittens, a dog, an alligator, a snake, and a man; the stories which at the beginning seem to have nothing to do with the other, but Appelt clearly defines by short chapters and gradually ties them together in a very imaginative way. Appelt’s words were written in an almost free verse style, with her repetition of phrases...more
Linda Lipko
Destined to be one of my top ten favorite books in 2010, this amazing, stunningly complex 2009 Newbery Honor book and National Book Award finalist simply took my breath away!

Journey to the dark recesses of the swampy Louisiana/Texas bayou where you find an alligator who is almost as large as the water that holds him, where you hear the hissing of the cottonmouth vipers and the sucking sound of the quick sand as it pulls and twists people and critters to their death, and where, along the deep for...more
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favorite moments 4 14 Sep 29, 2014 08:10AM  
What's The Name o...: SOLVED. MG/YA about cat living under a porch [s] 3 17 Apr 23, 2014 03:45PM  
Sha Tin College: ...: The Underneath: What was your favorite part of this book? Why? 4 6 Jan 26, 2014 11:47PM  
Mrs. B's Book Club: mrs. b's book review 1 3 Jun 09, 2013 10:01PM  
Wow. Amazing book. How'd she do that? 10 112 Jun 20, 2011 10:22AM  
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Lives in College Station, TX with husband Ken and four adorable cats.

Two sons, both musicians.

Serves on the faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts in the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults Program.
More about Kathi Appelt...
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“Purring is not so different from praying. To a tree, a cat's purr is one of the purest of all prayers, for in it lies a whole mixture of gratitude and longing, the twin ingredients of every prayer.” 16 likes
“Like the sweet moon keeps the sky
Like the wind goin' whooshing by
When those ol' sunbeams break the day
I will keep you while you play
Just as ol' river keeps the fishes
And little stars keep silver wishes
Just as the ocean keeps the blue
I will stand here close to you.
When all around is dark and deep
When them ol' shadows slowly creep
Even when you're fast asleep
It's you I'll keep, it's you I'll keep
No need to cry, no need to fear
I will always be right here.
I will always be right here.”
More quotes…