Wendy's Reviews > The Underneath

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
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's review
Oct 31, 2008

liked it
bookshelves: 2008-award-possibilities, newbery-honor
Read in November, 2008

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 just don't know that anymore. After the worst happens, ANYTHING could happen. I could not stop little moans of dread coming out of my throat at several points in this book.

Let's start with the fact that it's being marketed ALL WRONG. I was expecting The Incredible Journey, here. It isn't like that, and it isn't anything like Shiloh or Sounder, both of which are mentioned in the jacket matter. Probably I'll wake up in the middle of the night with a good book to compare it to, but it won't be an "animal" book.

Maybe The Bell Jar.

It is very, very poetically written. It took me a few minutes after finishing to be able to step out of the spell of the writing--and it was a real effort. The story is mostly interesting, and it's difficult to stop reading. The sense of setting is so strong as to be overwhelming.

I'm sure there's a lot of conflict about whether this book is really suitable for children, and that's really the main thing that would or could affect whether it's chosen for Newbery honors. I'm not sure, myself. I'm interested to hear what children think of it--whether it's too sad and scary. So often, children's books are sadder for adults; the kids take things in stride. I've noticed this myself when rereading childhood favorites. But you also hear the stories about kids who are really upset by Charlotte's Web. I don't know. My feeling about this definitely isn't strong enough to want to take it out of contention.

Most of it was drawn out a little too long; the book could have been shorter and, I think, equally powerful. There were a couple of times when I felt sort of manipulated, like I could see "oh, the author wants us to be scared here" and then it turns out okay--kind of like when it looks like a beloved television character has been killed, except right after the commercial, it turns out he's fine.

I hated, hated the illustrations of Hawk Man that made him look like an Indian out of central casting--I don't know whether the illustrations are accurate to what the Caddo wore, but I preferred the amorphous image I had in my head.

I was relieved by the ending, but I wasn't totally convinced by Grandmother's thoughts and actions there.

Newbery: probably.
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Reading Progress

11/13/2008 page 82
25.62% "Ack, can I find the courage to keep reading this?"

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Sandy D. Wendy - I actually just read this aloud with my 12 y.o. son. Well, I read parts of it out loud, then we'd both read a couple of chapters when we had a chance, then I'd read a bit out loud again, etc.

He liked it quite a bit, but I'm not sure exactly why. Maybe the nature stuff appealed to him. (He's not big on explaining *why* he likes books). I agree that I wouldn't recommend it for kids any younger.

I liked some of the descriptions of Caddo life, mainly because I have friends who do Caddo archaeology (and the pottery is indeed gorgeous), and it is so rare to see prehistoric and/or Native peoples mentioned in kid's fiction. You are right about the illustration, sadly.

I haven't seen any of the marketing, but your description reminds me of how the movie "Bridge to Terebithia" was pushed.

Kzwolf I have not seen bridge to teribithia but I have read the book.

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