Safekeeping by Karen Hesse

IMG_2076It is hard to believe that this book was published in 2012. The borders it crosses are at once of some imagined tomorrow and emphatically of now, now, now. Opening in a bleak near-future Vermont landscape, the novel introduces the reader to young Radley. She arrives home from a service trip to Haiti, only to find that the American People’s Party has won the election and is in power in the United States, and her parents have gone missing. After hunkering down for a while, terrorized, in her home, hiding from police who, she believes, are after her, she decides to head north.


Just take a look at the concluding passage on this page–the escape to Canada, the metal guardrail, the relief of the crossing. It could be about border-crossings today, northward crossings we never thought we’d see in our time.

The realities of 2017 have at times had the effect of making me feel utterly useless. I’ve questioned whether there is anything to be gained by the work I do, even questioned my belief that somehow, in my small way, I can try to make the world a better place.

One could quibble that the plot in this book turns too easily, or that allies show up a little too readily, or even that Rad’s greatest loss is a touch predictable. But Karen Hesse‘s Safekeeping gave me a little jolt of something completely necessary and vitally important. A kind of sweetness, like that of the girl she writes about, hungry for human contact and learning to trust her own best instincts. It reminded me of the strange and mysterious power of fiction to speak to reality. And in the end, it’s the remarkable prescience in the storyline that kept me turning the pages.


2 thoughts on “Safekeeping by Karen Hesse

  1. We recently drove to a very extravagant wedding down in the wine country of Baja California, Uma, and on the way south we sailed across the border into Mexico. On the way home, however, we were stuck in long, long lines at the border crossing in Tijuana. I didn’t mind the time it took – I expect the process to be unpredictable and tedious and long even at the border with Canada. But what broke my heart this time was the number of truly desperate people on the Mexican side of the border begging for any kind of help we could offer. Once we reached the border guards, we showed our American passports and were waved through quickly. Still, the desperation in the eyes (in the whole bodies, actually) of the people I saw really rattled me. Borders can be terrifying places, and Hesse’s spin on it (escaping into Canada) sounds fascinating. “America First” was certainly not in my heart as I headed up the highway towards San Diego. ANd this week, hearing our president at the United Nations talk about “sovreignty” (that’s code for not letting anybody “different” across our borders, right, and not wanting to join forces with other nations to help people who are oppressed or suffering) rattled me even more. Imagine the arrogance behind his comments. Imagine the kind of terror felt by the characters in Hesse’s book, being hunted down like that…and imagine an America ruled by something like the American People’s Party, so arrogant and blinkered and out of control that it threatens its own citizens.

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