October 15, 2012 by Heidi
Title: Safekeeping [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Karen Hesse [Website]
Standing: Stand alone novel.
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Speculative Fiction
Published: September 18th, 2012 by Feiwel and Friends
Format: Hardcover; 304 pages.
Source: ARC from publisher.
Radley just wants to get home to her parents in Vermont. While she was volunteering abroad, the American People’s Party took power; the new president was assassinated; and the government cracked down on citizens. Travel restrictions are worse than ever, and when her plane finally lands in New Hampshire, Radley’s parents aren’t there.
Exhausted; her phone dead; her credit cards worthless: Radley starts walking.
I was very excited when I first saw Safekeeping. I’d read Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust as a child and remember loving it, in fact, I could tell you exactly where it sits in the family bookcase back home because I never lose track of those books I truly enjoy. And so I was greatly disappointed to read through Karen Hesse’s latest and find that, while it may be beautifully written, it portrayed a world beyond the realm of possibility or belief and focused heavily on style over substance.
Honestly, Safekeeping made me angry. And not the type of angry that a book is supposed to make you feel when it’s well researched and makes you think about something you might not have wanted to think about, or talks about a sore subject. It made me angry because I feel like it was a political commentary book written by someone who had no understanding of how the United States government functions. I actually had to go look up Karen Hesse and see if she was, in fact, from the United States (she is).
The premise of Safekeeping is that the American People’s Party has been voted into power by an under-educated populace (yes, it is actually said that we made poor voting choices as a poorly educated nation), and apparently, this party has the ability to entirely change everything about the way our government functions Of course, I can only say apparently because nothing in this book is ever actually explained. Chaos descends when the president is assassinated, which from my understanding was the APP president that had been voted in, and then the party has to wrestle for control of the government among a wildly protesting population. Apparently, quite suddenly, this is the only party with any power in Washington D.C. They can rush through all sorts of laws without any checks or balances, and it seems as if they’ve declared it a military state, though again, this is never explained. One of my favorite parts was where everyone who dissents from the government gets thrown in jail. You know, political agitators, popular bloggers, because apparently all of a sudden the First Amendment (and I’m assuming the Constitution and Bill of Rights) mean absolutely nothing. I couldn’t help but thinking that giving Safekeeping to any kid would be providing that poor education Safekeeping seems so afraid of.
I like that Hesse tried to make a dystopian-esque future that was close to home, but it didn’t work. The methods were so underdeveloped (seriously–you will have no idea what is really going on with the political situation ever in this book) and unrealistic that I remain baffled that this even made it to print. Pile on top of that the complete naivety about the United States’ relationship with Canada and Safekeeping starts to feel like anti-U.S. propaganda.
In the story, Radley escapes the turmoil currently underway in the United States by walking to Canada. Along the way she is joined by Celia, and Jerry Lee–a girl and her dog. Now, pretty much right across the border they’re safe. They’re safe because Canada feels essentially zero effect from what is going on south of their borders. You’d think that Canada wasn’t our biggest trading partner, or that we didn’t have strong defense arrangements that might be affected by the United States becoming a police state with a collapsed government. No, of course not–everything’s fine! Not only that, but Canada’s totally cool with illegal aliens. They really don’t mind letting in whoever wants to come from the United States and not asking any questions–even after the U.S. government is stabilized and refugees could safely return home. Canada’s just that nice. I honestly do love Canada, but completely ignoring our political relationship for this book is a wee bit ridiculous.
As far as the characters go, I liked Radley okay, and I really did love the way this was written and how she developed, I just wish there had been any sort of world developed around them. Radley is so accustomed to having her parents fix everything, but for the first time finds herself as someone others depend on. She takes care of Celia, a girl she meets on the road to Canada. Again the confusion though. The way Celia is spoken of, I could have sworn she was a twelve year old girl until we find out that she is, in fact, nineteen–a year older than Radley herself. Radley is a very naive character, but she is also willing to struggle and learn. Naive, not stupid, but also inexplicably fearful. When Radley initially returns to her home she is so certain that the police are after her to throw her in jail (even though there is no reason but paranoia for this fear) that she doesn’t talk to anyone. Had she bothered to speak with her neighbors, or the police who visit her house daily, she (and we) could have learned a great deal.
Finally, I’m afraid I cannot finish this review without acknowledging the photo illustrations included therein. Karen Hesse includes her own photographs in the book, and I’m sad to add insult to injury and say that they are not good. They are beginning photography class not good. On top of which, they are shoved into the story with no context and do little if anything to add to the tale. I was very confused. Radley’s mother is a professional photographer, and when Radley leaves her home she takes with her a stack of her mother’s photographs. It is at this point that they begin appearing in the book. Sometimes the pictures go with the text, but more often they do not. For example she’ll be talking about daisies, and there will be a picture of flowers, but they aren’t daisies. Okay fine if they’re her mother’s photographs, but then why when she talks about specific photographs are they never there? And frankly, as I said, it’s hard to believe that a professional photographer would have taken any of these.
Safekeeping may be beautifully written, but I’m sorry to say that’s the only good part about it. I often enjoy being thrown into books when I have no idea what’s going on, and love having things fall into place as I go, but with Safekeeping they never do. There is no world building, no explanation. To me it largely seemed like a promotion for Canada and volunteering in Haiti. I can hardly say those are bad messages, but I don’t like the vessel one bit.
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:
I won’t write off a Newberry author for a dud, but I do think I’m going to be more comfortable reading her middle grade work, and will approach new reads with caution.
Honestly, I have a hard time recommending this book to anyone. While there were good hearted messages, the plot relies on the ignorance of the reader for it to be believable.
Get a second opinion:
Melanie’s Musings – “Safekeeping ultimately feels anti-climatic. It’s a wandering tale with a disjointed story…Add that to the disappointing photos, and Safekeeping was not a win for me.”
A Reader’s Pensieve – “I honestly will not be recommending this to anyone and am pretty disappointed overall.”