|The Underneath (Ala Notable Children's Books. Middle Readers)
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There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road.
A calico cat, about to have kittens, hears the lonely howl of a chained-up hound deep in the backwaters of the bayou. She dares to find him in the forest, and the hound dares to befriend this cat, this feline, this creature he is supposed to hate. They are an unlikely pair, about to become an unlikely family. Ranger urges the cat to hide underneath the porch, to raise her kittens there because Gar-Face, the man living inside the house, will surely use them as alligator bait should he find them. But they are safe in the Underneath...as long as they stay in the Underneath.
Kittens, however, are notoriously curious creatures. And one kitten's one moment of curiosity sets off a chain of events that is astonishing, remarkable, and enormous in its meaning. For everyone who loves Sounder, Shiloh, and The Yearling, for everyone who loves the haunting beauty of writers such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Flannery O'Connor, and Carson McCullers, Kathi Appelt spins a harrowing yet keenly sweet tale about the power of love -- and its opposite, hate -- the fragility of happiness and the importance of making good on your promises.
- I hated this book
I feel that I should like this book - the reviews have been great, and it won a Newbery honor and a National Book Award. But I quite frankly did not like this book. First of all, the cover is very deceiving. Looking at the illustration of the sad-eyed hound dog and his two kitten companions, you'd think it would be the cute story of an unlikely animal family. While that is part of the story, the rest of the story is dark and depressing. The pregnant calico cat has been abandoned, driven out to the woods and left there by her owners. She finds the dog, Ranger, chained to the porch of a run down house. Ranger's owner physically and emotionally abuses him, as he himself was abused as a child. There's also a subplot about a thousand year old snake trapped in a jar that I'm just not even going to get into. The book jacket states that this is a "tale about the power of love." More like a tale about child and animal abuse, abandonment, alcoholism, deceit and death. Most of the reviews praise the authors writing style, but I found it repetitive and boring. I felt impatient while I was reading it, like I was just waiting for it to be over. Perhaps children who like sad animal stories will like this tale, although it's certainly not one that I would recommend. I think that the main audience for this book is adults who are interested in children's literature. In fact, I did not find one review that was written by a child or young adult, which I think is telling....more info
- This Book is for Children?
Its happy yellow cover with the doggy and the two kittens on the front aside, there is nothing child-like about this story. Here's a conversation with a member of my family:
"What are you reading?"
"The Underneath. Newbery Honor Book."
"Oh, any good? What's it about?"
"Well, it is about a cat whose owners dump her in the woods just before she's about to give birth and she follows the singing of a hound dog to a house owned by a horrible man. Named Gar face. Abused as a child, abandoned by his mom, and an alcoholic. Listen to this! (I then read a very graphic paragraph from the book to him about what it feels like to drink cheap vodka.)"
"You said this was a Newbery?"
"It gets worse. Gar Face totally shoots his own dog and now he keeps the poor thing chained in the front yard 24/7 and doesn't feed him half the time. And the cats have to hide under the porch so Gar Face won't drown them or something. He also beats the dog."
"Also, for no reason I can discern, there's a funky subplot about some snake-woman who has been trapped in a jar for a thousand years. Also lots of trees."
"And this is for children?"
Really. I couldn't have said it better myself. At least it ends on a redeeming, if gruesome, note. Beautifully written, though. I do have to admit that. Supposedly it is for ages 9-12. Girls or boys, I suppose. Please read this one yourself first, though....more info
- A Book that Defies Labels
I spend a lot of time trying to find books that my children will love. And, just when I think I've figured it out with an exceptional choice, my daughter will discard the book with one glance at the cover. I thought for sure I had a winner with The Underneath. It is simultaneously award winning and about the friendship between kittens and a hound dog. How could I go wrong?
Well, let's just say that we were all surprised by this book. First of all, don't let the promise of cuddly friendships between animals lull you. This book has very dark elements touching on themes of domestic violence, anger, animal abuse, alcoholism, starvation, evil, jealousy and revenge. However, despite these grave aspects of the book, it is ultimately a poetic tale that leaves you feeling fulfilled. It is a book that resists all labels - it is a dark book about true love, it is a suspenseful book that reads like poetry, and it is an ancient tale and a modern one. Some children's books are page-turners. This one is not - it is a work of art, with all of the complexities of an innovative masterpiece.
If you read the reviews people either love it or hate it. When I mentioned we were reading The Underneath to the lady in the bookstore, she cringed. She stopped reading the book as soon as she got to the hound dog cruelly chained to the porch. She knows these award-nominating librarians all too well. They just love sad animal stories. According to her, stories of beloved pets dying of prolonged painful diseases make their day. I'm going to go back and recommend she give this book a second chance. It's a shame if people pass this book up because of concerns with its dark themes. It ultimately delivers a redemption that makes you feel good about the love in this world. Plus, it is fantastic writing.
However, I wouldn't recommend it to young children to read by themselves. For the right young teenager this could be the perfect book. They need to be a patient reader comfortable with a slower pace who is entranced by the darker themes. I read the entire book to my girls over a couple of weeks. Every night the girls looked forward to it, but neither one of them ever grabbed it and tried to finish it on their own. I'm glad because I enjoyed reading it to them. It is an exceptional tale.
- Jessica Wheeler...more info
- Wonderful and unique
Kathi Appelt's book The Underneath is a fresh, beautifully written book told from the voices of animals, a man named Gar Face and the spirits of the ancient swampy forest. I didn't realize it was considered a book for young readers until I had finished it. It has an ageless, timeless appeal and is refreshingly unique. The writing is as good as it gets....more info
- Best Book Ever
My 9 year old said it was the best book she has ever read! We were very disappointed it didn't win the Newbery Award, but it did get runner up.
She couldn't put the book down and kept on saying it was so exciting. she has told everyone she could about this exciting novel!...more info
- Richie's Picks: THE UNDERNEATH
"But when she got to the place where the hound sang, she knew that something was wrong.
"In front of her sat a shabby frame house with peeling paint, a house that slumped on one side as if it were sinking into the red dirt. The windows were cracked and grimy. There was a rusted pickup truck parked next to it, a dark puddle of thick oil pooled beneath its undercarriage. She sniffed the air. It was wrong, this place. The air was heavy with the scent of old bones, of fish and dried skins, skins that hung from the porch like a ragged curtain. Wrong was everywhere.
"She should turn around, she should go away, she should not look back. She swallowed. Perhaps she had taken the wrong path? What path should she take? All the paths were the same. She felt her kittens stir. It surely wouldn't be safe to stay here in this shabby place.
"She was about to turn around, when there it was again -- the song, those silver notes, the ones that settled just beneath her skin. Her kittens stirred again, as if they, too, could hear the beckoning song. She stepped closer to the unkempt house, stepped into the overgrown yard. She cocked her ears and let the notes lead her, pull her around the corner. There they were, those bluesy notes."
After being abandoned by her former owners in East Texas bayou country, and having been drawn through the woods by the lonely song of the chained-up, often-unfed hound dog named Ranger, a pregnant calico cat arrives at the isolated home of Ranger's bitter, violent, and disfigured owner, Gar Face. There, in the the dark space beneath the slumping house -- the Underneath -- the calico cat gives birth to her son Puck and her daughter Sabine. The two young kittens are repeatedly warned by their mother and Ranger about the danger posed by the hard-drinking, rifle-wielding Gar Face and that to be safe they must always remain in the Underneath.
Tragedy strikes when Puck's curiosity causes him to not heed those warnings. THE UNDERNEATH is in large part the story of Puck's subsequent journey.
"She has been trapped for a thousand years. But she is older than that, much older. Lamia. She is cousin to the mermaids, the ondines, the great sealfolk known as selkies, perhaps the last of her kind."
THE UNDERNEATH is also the story of another mother, Grandmother Moccasin, and what befell her a thousand years earlier in the days when a native people named the Caddo inhabited the area along the creek that has since come to be called the Little Sorrowful:
"And all around, the watchful trees, the oldest ones, shimmered. They knew that Grandmother Moccasin, when she awoke, would not be happy. The trees knew, but they also recognized the moment for what it was: a love so strong that there was no going back for either one. So for just a little while, the soughing trees used their own ancient magic to stir up the Zephyrs of Sleep. To keep all the others in the forest a-snoozing until Hawk Man and Night Song, in their brand-new skins, had slipped away. For trees, who see so much sorrow, so much anger, so much desperation, know love for the rare wonder of it, so they are champions of it and will do whatever they can to help it along its way."
In this perfectly crafted, suspenseful tale filled with myth and magic, pain and love, and the beauty and the perilousness of bayou country, those ever-watchful trees include a grand old, ailing-yet-proud loblolly pine that will provide a bridge across a thousand years of story and across the Little Sorrowful itself.
The story is perfectly complemented by David Small's beautiful pencil illustrations. (My favorite is definitely his depiction of the scene when, "Suddenly the sky filled up with...a million different birds, calling in their million different voices.")
Without question, Kathi Appelt's THE UNDERNEATH is the finest animal story for children I have read in years. A suspenseful page-turner featuring an incredibly endearing hound dog, I cannot wait to hunt down a young audience with whom I can share it.
- Out from Underneath
The mournful, soulful song of the chained bloodhound, Ranger, attracts the abandoned calico cat, and she joins him underneath Gar Face's cabin in a remote bayou. The suffering Ranger is delighted and charmed by his companion, but he warns her to stay out of sight of the vicious
Gar Face. When she produces two gray kittens, whom Ranger names Sabine and Puck, he happily becomes their guardian too. He knows, however, that Gar Face would use the kittens as alligator bait if he discovers them. There are two other inhabitants of the swamp whose lives become entwined with the small family. One is the enormous, old Alligator King that Gar Face is obsessed with catching. The other is the ancient Grandmother Moccasin, a lamai, half human and half serpent, who had been imprisoned beneath a pine tree for a thousand years until lightning strikes the tree and releases her.
The villains in this book are breath-takingly scary, yet the author manages to make their villainy understandable. Gradually revealing their wretched histories, small slivers are sympathy are evoked despite their deeds. The artist's wonderful pencil illustrations enhance the story and express misery and anger in turn. This is a truly unique, compelling story which shows that the most twisted of characters might still be capable of redemptive action. A thoroughly stellar story.
- Lush and Lyrical
The stories of an abandoned calico cat about to give birth, an abused and neglected hound dog chained in a yard, a bitter man who lives only to drink and kill, and an ancient magical creature trapped and dreaming of vengeance intertwine in rhythmic prose in this tale of love and loss and revenge and hope. While some scenes may be too much for more sensitive readers, consider this book for older children, especially Bridge to Terabithia fans....more info
- A Wonderful Adventure!
I got this for my son but wound up reading it first. I absolutely loved it and couldn't put it down. I don't think it's too 'dark' or at all inappropriate for children. I really enjoyed the almost poetic tones and the fable like story of Nightsong, Hawk Man and Grandmother!...more info
Wow - I just finished The Underneath. It is an amazing combination of fantasy and reality, with characters and a story that can tug your heartstrings and keep you reading and wondering. It is hard to talk in detail about this book without giving some things away, but I will say it is very well written, one of the most unusual books you will ever read, and I recommend it highly....more info
- Wasted Potential
I listened to this on audio CD and I really wanted to like it because it's a National Book Award finalist. (And it's about kittens. Who doesn't like kittens?) The story should have been simple and touching but it was over-done. I kept wanting it to be over and it was a chore to keep listening. I can't imagine how young children with short attention spans would react to it. I'm twenty-six and I couldn't take it. ...more info
- A Must Read!
I will keep my review short and simple. The others were too long. I read this to my 5th grade students. They loved the story. Each day they waited with anticipation to hear the next chapters.
If you are an animal lover, this is a story you will be delighted with. ...more info
- Not at all enjoyable
I purchased this book because of all the wonderful reviews I read and in part because of the compelling cover art. I teach fourth grade and had hoped it add it to my classroom library. I found the book difficult to read because of the discombobulated story line. It jumps around way too much for young readers and switches between past & present. I did not find a lot of redeeming qualities in this book. The old man's character is scary and dark. This is NOT a feel good story and I was anxious to be done with it. There are so many more compelling and interesting stories out there for young readers....more info
- Flattened by The Underneath
The Underneath: My Reaction
It must be a good book. I've never finished a book before and been absolutely, compulsively driven to write a review. I am this time. But I hated the book.
The YA authors in my writing group agreed to each read one of the books nominated for the YA National Book Award. My choice/assignment was The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. I was completely excited: an award nominee about dogs and cats! Just my cup 'o tea.
Based on the following reviews, I guess I was expecting a beautiful, lyrical story about love for/between some animals. Thirty pages in, I felt slam-dunked.
"A mysterious and magical story; poetic yet loaded with suspense."-- Louis Sachar, Newbery Medal-winning author of Holes
"The Underneath is as enchanting as a hummingbird, as magical as the clouds." -- Cynthia Kadohata, Newbery Medal-winning author of Kira-Kira
"Rarely do I come across a book that makes me catch my breath, that reminds me why I wanted to be a writer -- to make of life something beautiful, something enduring. The Underneath is a book of ancient themes -- love and loss and betrayal and redemption -- woven together in language both timeless and spellbinding. A classic."-- Alison McGhee, author of the New York Times bestselling Someday
"Kathi Appelt's novel, The Underneath, reads like a ballad sung."-- Ashley Bryan, Hans Christian Anderson Award Nominee and Three-Time Coretta Scott King Award Medalist
All writers I respect. A lyrical story of redemption.
The writing is lyrical, alright. It's downright stunning prose, so much so that the only two comparisons I can make are Louise Erdrich and Toni Morrison. And the magic realism is comparable, too. It's a beautiful thing. It reads like a song.
But still, I hated it.
The song is so painful and so awful and so filled with despair, abuse, abandonment, death and revenge, that there's no room for redemption. I'm used to pain and sadness in stories. Conflict is what keeps us reading, right? But here, I had to keep setting the book down because it was too painful to go on.
Most of us are familiar with the phenomenon that watching animals suffer in a story or movie is worse than watching humans suffer. All too true in this novel. I felt as if my heart were wrenched out, flattened with a meat hammer and stuffed back into my chest cavity. Not once, not twice, but again and again and again. By the end of the book, my heart had no room to celebrate redemption. It only had room to lie there, flattenend but pulsing, relieved that the death and abuse and despair were over and that the three characters who had survived the course of the story could live in peace.
I remember, decades ago, seeing "The Fox and Hound" in the movie theater. When the hound falls off the bridge deep into the ravine to his certain death, I remember as a kid being acutely aware of the fact that in order to survive watching the story, I had to emotionally detach from the falling dog. I couldn't bear it. The dog survived, barely, but my heart had detached from pain too great to bear.
By the end of The Underneath, I had detached so many times, I had no attachment left.
The story is omniscient, but we have a third-person close view of nine different characters. Refreshingly, only one of them, is human. That's my favorite part of the story, besides the language.
The book crushed my heart. It must be a good book, if a week after I finished it, I am compelled to respond to it because of its emotional impact. But I still hate it.
Maybe it's not a story for obsessed animal lovers. It's just too painful. Maybe it's a great story if all creatures involved are metaphorical or just that--creatures. Maybe. This much I know: I sure don't ever want to read it again. I don't need that much pain.
- I Wanted to Like It ...
I really wanted to like this book. The story is really amazing, and the prose so lyrical and haunting. The author truly has a way with words. It just wasn't my cup of tea, I suppose. There is a beautiful review here that made me want to like it even more. Maybe this would be a good book club choice, so that, through the discussion, you can come to enjoy it more. I just found it a bit too meandering for me.
- The Tales of Misery -- Horrible.
Do not read this book to your kids, for it tells only the tales of misery. That the last chapter brings some joy is irrelevant. By then you have nothing left in you but the horror of all the preceding chapters: An evil man who abuses animals by beating them, shooting them, or skinning them. A terrified dog chained to a post, beaten mercilessly and intentionally starved. A newborn baby cat intentionally thrown in the river with his mama, where he watches her drown and die. A girl who goes to sleep and when she wakes up, she finds that she has lost her mother forever. Just miserable....more info