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.


Fiction = Imagined

In the push to pay attention to children’s nonfiction–which may be one of the few good spinoffs of the Common Core–are we losing the ability to read fiction with imagination? I’m starting to get asked, much more than I did in years past, if my characters are “real.”

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I make them all up, every last one. Fiction is not meant to be taken for history or geography.

girlinthewellI’m reading the ARC of a middle grade novel by my friend and neighbor Karen Rivers in which a girl falls into a well. Not a spoiler, I promise. That is only the beginning. Point is, did the writer ever fall into one? Does it matter? She is not her character. The story is an artistic representation. More on that later from Karen.

Fiction is meant to leave us with questions rather than provide us with tidy answers. I worry that we’re losing the arts of subtlety and subtext, that we want everything to be on the surface. We want only comfort for our children, when perhaps we ought to be passing along to them what little we have learned about living with the waves of discomfort and pain, joy and grief and passion, that have shaped our lives.