Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Teen Tuesday: The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante

Image: Penguin
The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante. 320 p. G.P. Putnam's Sons/ Penguin Young Readers, June, 2019. 9780525514022. (Review of arc courtesy of publisher.)

Teen Tuesday features The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante. This powerful and timely debut tells the story of two sisters who are seeking asylum in the United States because they fear for their lives after their father disappears and their brother is murdered back in El Salvador. The two have walked for days and weeks, enduring harsh conditions; but they have been caught. Seventeen-year-old Marisol fears that her plea for asylum will not be granted and flees the detention center with her sister, Gabi. They are picked up by a government agent and offered a deal to stay in the U.S. Marisol can become a "grief keeper," an experimental conduit for grief or trauma in exchange for asylum. 

Medical experimentation can be an ethical slippery slope. Often test subjects are the least able to give informed consent and most likely driven by desperation—prisoners, poor people and those without power. Marisol is terrified of being sent back and hides the side effects of the transfer from the doctor and agent in charge. 

Through Marisol's careful, thoughtful narration, readers slowly learn her secrets as well as the secrets of Rey, the teenage daughter of a powerful DC businessman from whom Marisol must absorb traumatic grief. Tension is high in this genre-blender—part sci/fi, part thriller, part romance. Along the way, thoughtful readers might ponder issues of identity, governmental power, immigration policies, prejudice and institutional racism. Wholly engrossing and beautifully written, Marisol is a character who will linger long after you close the book.

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