cover image The Folk Keeper

The Folk Keeper

Franny Billingsley. Atheneum Books, $16.95 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-689-82876-8

Billingsley (Well Wished) imagines a fascinating subterranean world and infuses a strong feminist theme into this poetically wrought tale featuring a 15-year-old orphan. Corinna Stonewall, who earned her name for her stubbornness, is at odds with a hierarchical society filled with lords and ladies. Rather than succumb to her fate of becoming a servant girl, she reinvents herself as a boy named Corin and secures a position as ""Folk Keeper."" Her job is dangerous: she must protect the mainland village of Rhysbridge against the harmful pranks of the Folk, devilish underground creatures who thrive in darkness. But Corinna feels freer in her dank cellar quarters than in the outside world. Then one day, a mysterious dying man arrives who seems to see past her disguise and hires her to work at the island estate he shares with his wife, Lady Alicia. Drawing on storytelling traditions and yet creating a completely original labyrinthine underworld, the author sends Corinna on a spiritual as well as physical journey. The tale unfolds through Corinna's Folk Record, her most prized possession, which chronicles the activities of the dark-dwelling creatures. While fending off the fiercer breed of Folk threatening Lady Alicia's seaside manor, the heroine makes discoveries about her past, the special powers she possesses and her strange attraction to the sea. The plot thickens as Corinna struggles to keep her gender and special powers a secret and fights her growing feelings for a kindred spirit: Lady Alicia's son, Finian. Strong visual imagery manages both to orient readers and yet to leave them with an odd feeling of disorientation (""The walls were heavy draperies, stone folded upon stone, lustrous with damp""). In this way, Billingsley brilliantly creates a reading experience that parallels Corinna's own experience. The author's ear for language, her use of classic motifs and her stalwart heroine make this novel an evocative, unforgettable read. Ages 10-14. (Oct.)