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