cover image The Grief Keeper

The Grief Keeper

Alexandra Villasante. Putnam, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-51402-2

Villasante’s engrossing debut about two Salvadoran sisters recently arrived in the U.S. opens with plenty of tension: 17-year-old Marisol is being interviewed about the siblings’ request for asylum. They fled because their father disappeared, their brother was murdered by a fellow gang member, and both Marisol’s and 12-year-old Gabi’s lives were threatened, as well as their mother’s. Eventually, Marisol is offered the opportunity for asylum through participation in an ethically questionable medical trial to help relieve PTSD—by receiving and holding another person’s grief. The grief she takes on belongs to teenage Rey, who is devastated after her twin brother’s death, and to whom Marisol is immediately attracted. The girls bond over an American soap opera that Marisol loved to watch in El Salvador, but as Marisol absorbs Rey’s grief, both the experiment and their relationship unfold in unexpected ways. Though Marisol doesn’t initially reveal that others’ homophobia was a key reason for her persecution in El Salvador, her sexual identity gradually becomes clear to readers, and a closing flashback reveals a deeper truth behind the sisters’ flight. Villasante builds her novel about undocumented immigrants into a suspenseful story with credible relationships, satisfying character development, and elements of science fiction. Ages 12–up. Agent: Barbara Poelle, the Irene Goodman Agency. [em](June) [/em]