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The Grief Keeper: 08/31/19

The Grief Keeper

The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante opens in a detention center. Marisol "Sol" Morales and her sister Gabi have been kept there while they wait the ruling for their asylum claim. When a kitchen door is left open, the sisters take advantage of the situation and flee.

Along the way they're picked up by a woman who works for immigration. She tells the girls that their asylum request has been denied. But, she has an offer for Sol that will allow her and her sister to stay legally. She has to become part of a PTSD medical study. What had begun as a contemporary, realistic fiction veers into speculative fiction.

The study involves linking two people together emotionally via cuffs — like tracking devices people on house arrest wear. One device transmits the emotional trauma and the other receives. Sol's task is to be the grief keeper for a young woman about her age who lost someone close to her. It's turned her suicidal and no other treatments have worked.

For the device to work, the receiver has to be in proximity to the patient. While they are supposed to be close but separate, Sol ends up befriending the woman she's supposed to be helping.

It's through their friendship that both young women begin their healing. Some of it via the cuffs. Some of it is via old fashioned interactions. Through their joint recovery we learn of their shared trauma. We learn why Sol and Gabi had to leave.

This speculative fiction YA also sits in the road narrative spectrum. For the spectrum, it's the journey that sets up the rest of the narrative. In this regard, it's the two young women as a couple (33). Instead, it's Sol and Gabi as siblings (CC) who are the travelers. The destination is home — both literally, the home (66) where they stay to be part of the medical test — and figuratively, a new safe home somewhere in the United states. Finally the route is the Blue Highway (33), the roads up to the United States, and then through it. All together, it's the story of sisters seeking out a new home via the Blue Highway (CC6633).

Five stars

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