This stunning YA debut is a timely and heartfelt speculative narrative about healing, faith, and freedom.
Seventeen-year-old Marisol has always dreamed of being American, learning what Americans and the US are like from television and Mrs. Rosen, an elderly expat who had employed Marisol's mother as a maid. When she pictured an American life for herself, she dreamed of a life like Aimee and Amber's, the title characters of her favorite American TV show. She never pictured fleeing her home in El Salvador under threat of death and stealing across the US border as "an illegal", but after her brother is murdered and her younger sister, Gabi's, life is also placed in equal jeopardy, she has no choice, especially because she knows everything is her fault. If she had never fallen for the charms of a beautiful girl named Liliana, Pablo might still be alive, her mother wouldn't be in hiding and she and Gabi wouldn't have been caught crossing the border.
But they have been caught and their asylum request will most certainly be denied. With truly no options remaining, Marisol jumps at an unusual opportunity to stay in the United States. She's asked to become a grief keeper, taking the grief of another into her own body to save a life. It's a risky, experimental study, but if it means Marisol can keep her sister safe, she will risk anything. She just never imagined one of the risks would be falling in love, a love that may even be powerful enough to finally help her face her own crushing grief.
The Grief Keeper is a tender tale that explores the heartbreak and consequences of when both love and human beings are branded illegal.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
The Grief Keeper is a ripped-from-the-headlines immigration horror story with a fantastical twist. After fleeing persecution in El Salvador, 17-year-old Marisol and her younger sister, Gabi, wind up in a U.S. detention center. In order to be granted asylum, authorities require Marisol to participate in a PTSD experiment about the transference of grief. The catch? She has to bear another person’s grief alongside her own. What unfolds is a nightmare, but also a love story of sorts. By showing its young heroine as exactly what she is—a person, both good and flawed—this novel encourages us to move beyond labels and see the humanity in one another.
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.