I was incredibly excited to read The Grief Keeper after learning a big part of the story was an immigrant girl allowing herself to be experimented on by the U.S. Government so that they could gain asylum into the country sounded amazing and not exactly fictional. Of course I have no idea if the U.S. Government experiments on immigrants in exchange for asylum, but it’s one of those horrifying ideas so scary that it sounds like it could be true. The idea of it horrified me and I was intrigued at where the story would go with that plot but was unfortunately left disappointed.
Threatened by their dead brother’s gang in El Salvador, Marisol and her younger sister Gabi have crossed the border into the United States to seek asylum. When their request is denied, Marisol takes her sister away from the detention centre as they hitchhike to somewhere, anywhere safer where they find Indranie. Indranie is a government employee looking for someone to experiment a new kind of treatment for sufferers of PTSD and mental health issues, a person to take the grief and feelings of another person. Marisol agrees to be this person for her and her sister Gabi’s asylum as she acts as a Grief Keeper for a girl around her age named Rey which complicates things for Marisol as she starts to develop feelings for Rey and worries if the experiment is working. Because if the experiment fails then Marisol and Gabi are sent back to El Salvador where their lives are in danger, but they could be in just as much danger in the U.S.
The idea behind this novel is amazing, a kind of sci-fi heartbreaking horror that I couldn’t wait to read, on paper it just doesn’t deliver. I found Marisol to be so incredibly dull and couldn’t feel anything for her even though she was willing to risk her health and well-being for her sister. Gabi was annoying, though I can forgive that because she’s such a young character, though I did enjoy the portrayal of Marisol and Gabi’s sisterly bond. Rey was a privileged white girl and she acted like it, and I suppose I should feel more for her because she is suffering from mental health issues, but I just couldn’t feel anything for her either.
For most of the book the story just feels kind of stagnant. Nothing happens, then something but it doesn’t really feel like anything. The last twenty or so pages were actually exciting but even that ended abysmally and then the book just kind of ended without resolution.
I did enjoy Villasante’s unique bilingual narration as I’ve never read a book use this kind of technique before. Since Villasante is bilingual and I am not I can only assume it is is an accurate representation of what it would be like and thought it was interesting to see Marisol’s confusion over some English words as well filling in some of those lexical gaps with her own Spanish lexicon. I’d like to see more diverse books use this method of storytelling to show the barrier between learning a new language.
The Grief Keeper is a great idea that, sadly, doesn’t go to the places it could.
Publication: June 11th 2019
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Reader
Pages: 320 pages
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, YA, LGTBQ*
My Rating: ⛤⛤.5
“Seventeen-year-old Marisol Morales and her little sister Gabi are detainees of the United States government. They were caught crossing the U.S. border, to escape the gang violence in their country after their brother was murdered. When Marisol learns that the old family friend who had offered them refuge in America has died and they are going to be sent home, they flee.
They hitchhike, snagging a ride with an unassuming woman who agrees to drive them to New Jersey, but when Marisol wakes up in D.C. she learns the woman is actually a government agent. Indranie Patel has a proposal for Marisol: she wants Marisol to be a Grief Keeper, someone who will take another’s grief into their body. It’s a dangerous experimental study, but if Marisol agrees she and Gabi will be allowed to stay in the United States. If the experiment fails the girls will be sent home, which is a death sentence. Things become more complicated when Marisol meets Rey, the wealthy daughter of a D.C. Senator, and the girl she’s helping to heal. Marisol likes Rey’s short hair and sarcastic attitude. But she didn’t expect the connection from their shared grief to erupt into a powerful love.
Suddenly being forced from the United States isn’t just a matter of life and death, but a matter of the heart.”