Reviews for Underneath


Booklist Reviews 2008 May #2
*Starred Review* Appelt's impressive novel (her first) entails animals in crisis--a topic of enduring popularity. But the author, whose path from picture books to fantasy is discussed in the adjacent feature, breathes new life into the sentient-animals premise, introducing strong currents of magic realism into a tale as rich and complex as "the gumbo-like waters of the bayous." Chained and starved by cruel trapper Gar Face, lonely hound Ranger finds companions in a stray cat and her two kittens. When Mother Cat falls victim to Gar Face's abuse, the surviving animals, especially sensitive kitten Puck, struggle to keep their makeshift family together. The animals' caring, generous bonds juxtapose with the smothering love of an ancient shape-shifter in a moving parallel story. Joining Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting as a rare example of youth fantasy with strong American underpinnings, Appelt's novel folds in specific traditions of the Caddo peoples of east Texas, and casts the bayous as a kind of enchanted forest laden with spirits and benign, organic presences. Some readers may struggle with Appelt's repeated phrases and poetic fragments, and wish the connections and conflicts in the story came to a faster boil. But most children will be pulled forward by the vulnerable pets' survival adventure and by Small's occasional, down-to-earth drawings, created with fluid lines that are a perfect match for the book's saturated setting and Appelt's ebbing, flowing lyricism. Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2008 May
A search for safe haven

An abandoned, and pregnant, calico cat and a ragtag hound dog in Texas bayou country might seem an unlikely duo—but this pairing kicks off a journey that is alternately worrisome and adventure-filled, mystical and redemptive. First-time novelist Kathi Appelt takes readers to the edge of their seats and emotions as she spins the story of lovable hound dog Ranger and kittens Sabine and Puck and their perilous endeavors.

Safe as long as they remain in "the Underneath"—their ratty home under the porch—the cat, her kittens and Ranger soon find life worse than they could have imagined. When Gar-Face, the disheveled, drunk and bitter man who lives inside the house, discovers the cats, it sets off a chain of events that leaves the kittens orphaned and separated—and leads to Puck's big adventure.

While Puck's harrowing struggle to find his way back to the Underneath is one main thread in the book, a second, more mythical, storyline runs concurrently about Grandmother Mocassin—who lived in the region 1,000 years ago in the land of the native Caddo. The loblolly pine and other trees along Little Sorrowful Creek remember her story. And, ultimately, Grandmother's unwavering tale of vengeance intersects with Puck's story in a most surprising—yet satisfying—way.

The powerful storyline is driven by the emotions of love and hate and, ultimately, their consequences, as well as the importance of keeping promises.

The Underneath is not only a delightful and suspenseful animal tale, it is a classic story destined to be read for years and savored for its charming characters and underlying message. Librarians and teachers take note—this may be an early contender for the Newbery Award.

Sharon Verbeten, a former children's librarian and current freelance writer, lives a pet-free life in De Pere, Wisconsin. Copyright 2008 BookPage Reviews.

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 2008 Fall
Deep among the Texan bayous, underneath a ramshackle cabin, an abandoned cat seeks refuge. Above lives Gar Face -- the scarred, embittered, unredeemable product of a loveless, abusive childhood. Gar Face embodies cruelty and hate; yet his battered, ill-fed old bloodhound, Ranger, welcomes the cat; soon, with newborn kittens Sabine and Puck, they've made a loving, loyal family. Counterpointing the animals' present-day story is another that reaches back centuries. Aspects of nature itself are personified as ancient beings: poisonously wicked old Grandmother Moccasin, a lamia (snake-woman) trapped under a loblolly pine for a thousand years, plotting revenge for the loss of her shape-changing daughter; the mammoth alligator that Gar Face, ignorant of its venerable power, hopes to kill. Watching over all are the birds and the sentient trees; making a litany of the trees' multitudinous names, Appelt spins a lyrical, circling narrative, Homeric in its cadenced repetitions. Gar Face's discovery of the family "Underneath" is a catastrophe. Puck is set adrift, desperately seeking a way home. Meanwhile, the lamia's long past unfolds, reaching its denouement in the same moment that the animals' ordeal comes to its swift-paced end. Easily read, with many brief chapters and full of incident, its endearing characters (and scary ones, too) well realized in Small's excellent full-page drawings, this fine book is most of all distinguished by the originality of the story and the fresh beauty of its author's voice -- a natural for reading aloud. Copyright 2008 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2008 #3
Deep among the Texan bayous, underneath a ramshackle cabin, an abandoned cat seeks refuge. Above lives Gar Face -- the scarred, embittered, unredeemable product of a loveless, abusive childhood. Gar Face embodies cruelty and hate; yet his battered, ill-fed old bloodhound, Ranger, welcomes the cat; soon, with newborn kittens Sabine and Puck, they've made a loving, loyal family. Counterpointing the animals' present-day story is another that reaches back centuries. Aspects of nature itself are personified as ancient beings: poisonously wicked old Grandmother Moccasin, a lamia (snake-woman) trapped under a loblolly pine for a thousand years, plotting revenge for the loss of her shape-changing daughter; the mammoth alligator that Gar Face, ignorant of its venerable power, hopes to kill. Watching over all are the birds and the sentient trees; making a litany of the trees' multitudinous names, Appelt spins a lyrical, circling narrative, Homeric in its cadenced repetitions. Gar Face's discovery of the family "Underneath" is a catastrophe. Puck is set adrift, desperately seeking a way home. Meanwhile, the lamia's long past unfolds, reaching its denouement in the same moment that the animals' ordeal comes to its swift-paced end. Easily read, with many brief chapters and full of incident, its endearing characters (and scary ones, too) well realized in Small's excellent full-page drawings, this fine book is most of all distinguished by the originality of the story and the fresh beauty of its author's voice -- a natural for reading aloud. Copyright 2008 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2008 April #1
When fate separates them, an old hound dog and two foster kittens survive the dangers of the bayou to find one another. Seeking shelter, a homeless pregnant cat responds to the "bluesy" baying of a hound named Ranger who lives chained under the porch of a shack in the woods of the East Texas bayou. He happily shares the Underneath with the cat and her two kittens, Sabine and Puck. The kittens are safe from Ranger's evil master Gar Face as long as they remain hidden, but Puck ventures out "straight into the terrible hands of Gar Face," who does his best to drown both the curious kitten and his mother. Somehow Puck escapes after promising his dying mother he will find Sabine and free Ranger, but he's on his own in a bayou teeming with mysterious creatures. Aided by Small's lively illustrations, Appelt intricately weaves these animals' ancient stories into Puck's survival saga to produce a magical tale of betrayal, revenge, love and the importance of keeping promises. (Fiction. 8-12) Copyright Kirkus 2008 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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Library Media Connection Reviews 2008 August/September
Love struggles mightily and eventually scores a victory against huge doses of loss, longing, and loneliness in this masterfully crafted tale that is part animal story, part forest myth. In a swampy east Texas forest, where trees have thousand-year memories, an abandoned cat and her kittens, Puck and Sabine, befriend a chained-up hound and move underneath his porch. Ranger's abusive owner spends his nights searching the swamps for Alligator King, who awaits the return of his friend, Grandmother Moccasin, a half-human, half-serpent imprisoned in a jar for 1,000 years. Grandmother, stewing in bitterness because her daughter took human form to marry Hawk Man, waits patiently to be reunited with their daughter. When Puck ventures out from underneath Ranger's porch, he sets in motion a series of events that binds all these characters together. The story is beautifully and skillfully written. Language is succinct and perfectly to the point, capturing ideas in pithy phrases. The complex weaving of multiple stories spanning thousands of years is expertly plotted. While illustrations may entice them, younger readers may be discouraged by the sophisticated vocabulary and challenging plot. For some, the tale's resolution may fail to disperse its overwhelming sense of loss; definitely a gem. Recommended. Amy Hart, Head of Bibliographic Services, Minuteman Library Network, Natick, Massachusetts ¬ 2008 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

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School Library Journal Reviews 2008 June

Gr 4-8-- Appelt brings Southern Gothic to the middle grade set. Three separate but eventually entwined stories are told piecemeal. There is the tale of an abandoned, pregnant calico cat who finds shelter and friendship with the bloodhound, Ranger. He is the abused and neglected pet of Gar Face, a broken-jawed recluse who lives in the Texas bayou, where he fled 25 years previously to escape an abusive father. And finally there is the story of Grandmother Moccasin, a shape-shifting water snake who has lain dormant in a jar for a thousand years, buried beneath a loblolly pine tree. The threads are brought together when Puck, one of the newborn kittens, breaks the rule of straying from the safety of The Underneath, the sliver of space beneath Gar Face's porch where Ranger is chained and the cats live. The pace of this book is meandering, and there is a clear effort by the dominant third-person narrator to create a lyrical, ancient tone. However, the constant shift of focus from one story line to the next is distracting and often leads to lost threads. Small's black-and-white illustrations add a certain languid moodiness to the text. Themes of betrayal, hope, and love are reflected in the three stories, but this is a leisurely, often discouraging journey to what is ultimately an appropriate ending.--Kara Schaff Dean, Walpole Public Library, MA

[Page 134]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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