What an amazing story!
Kathi Appelt has created a monumentally emotional painting with this story of love and friendship, tested and proven.
This is no hearts and flowers story, by any means. There is death and betrayal and harsh reality bound up in this story of an abandoned Calico cat, her beloved kittens, and their devoted guardian, an aging, abused Bloodhound. But the story, full of twists and turns and imminent danger draws the reader along.
Appelt has a gift with words and every page is resonates with the scents and sounds of the bayou ("The air was heavy with the scent of old bones, of fish and dried skins, skins that hung from the porch like a ragged curtain. Wrong was everywhere"). There is magic in every fibre of the forest and every creature is a kindred spirit ("And all around, the watchful trees, the oldest ones, shimmered. They knew that Grandmother Moccasin, when she awoke, would not be happy. The trees knew, but they also recognized the moment for what it was: a love so strong that there was no going back for either one. So for just a little while, the soughing trees used their own ancient magic to stir up the Zephyrs of Sleep.").
The story isn't straight forward.... It slips back and forth between the present -- the cat, her kittens, the dog, and the dog's cruel owner -- and the ancient but ongoing story of Grandmother Moccasin, a snake-being who lost her only daughter to true love, and Grandmother's unquenchable quest for revenge.
The stories are interwoven and ultimately intersect, with each character ultimately receiving what they deserve.... either in fact or by way of a lesson.
I was reminded, somewhat, of the book "Beautiful Joe" that I read in Grade 5. Unfortunately for me, the terrifying start of that story rendered me unable to recall further, though I know I read it through.
While "The Underneath" contains its own measure of cruel reality, Appelt has managed to portion it out in a way that doesn't overwhelm the reader. I would caution parents, however, that for a child who is very sensitive, there should be some discussion of death and cruelty, and an acknowledgment of the wrongness of some human actions.
I certainly think that Appelt has clearly shown how an act of cruelty can forever impact the life of a person and how one person can affect the lives of others, for good or bad.
A highly recommended read.
"The Underneath" by Kathi Appelt (For ages 10 and up)