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.


Prescience in Fiction 

messengerAnti-immigrant rhetoric…build a wall…despise the other…blame victims…carry weapons.

I’m not referring to hate speech spouted by some egomaniacal aspirant to power in the United States. This is all from the fictional world created by Lois Lowry in her astonishingly relevant The Giver quartet. I’m just rereading Book 3, Messenger. The last time I read it, Matty’s gift felt almost mythic in its savior-like quality. Now I’m struck by the degree to which  the world in the book is our world. By how  farsighted fiction can be. Walls. Immigration. Hatred. Weapons.

First published in 2004. Read it now.

The Flint Heart by Katherine Paterson

flintheartLast January at VCFA, Katherine Paterson signed a copy of The Flint Heart for me, the middle grade fantasy she wrote in collaboration with her husband John. On first read it was a lovely romp, with its charming child characters, its fairytale backdrop, the sinister Heart itself, an adorable anthropomorphized hot water bottle, and its sly asides on the nature of writing and life. My writer self delighted in the glorious fun of its many literary allusions. But read it again and it becomes something more–a parable for our times, perhaps. A commentary on power, on those who hunger for it and on what it does when one gets it, even by chance. It offers the discerning writer a way to mingle the real and fantastic. The structure is impeccable. The story weaves from one world and one time to another with seemingly effortless ease. A revival of the British fantasy by Eden Philpotts, The Flint Heart is a gem reimagined and infused with the customary Paterson magic.