Cover Image: The Keeper

The Keeper

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Member Reviews

This book is a fun spooky read for tweens and young teens (early middle school). What I appreciate about this book are its representation of Mexican-American culture and the close family relationships, particularly between James and Ava. The spooky/horror element was a gradual build, but never frightening. Great character development throughout and loved the distinct personalities of James (athletic/baseball player) and Ava (analytical, science geek). My only complaint was the ending was a bit messy and weak.
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Star Little League slugger James and his little sister, science geek Ava, are engaged in a ruthless prank war that has only intensified since they left their Texas home to move to rainy, creepy Oregon. The pair aren't thrilled about the move, even though the neighborhood is full of super nice and welcoming folks. Maybe TOO nice... When James starts to receive spooky letters from the mysterious Keeper, his parents assume it's part of the prank war and ignore his worries, so James begins to investigate the matter himself. The more James and Ava dig, the weirder things get...and the looming threat of the 'Blood Moon' means the stakes are high!

THE KEEPER is a charming, spooky middle grade horror novel, perfect for tweens who want a tense, supernatural thrill alongside a lovely story about family, friendship, and heritage. James' growing relationship with his sister is adorable, and the book's undercurrent of James' struggle to grieve the loss of his abuela will be relevant to many readers. The novel gets off to a slow-ish start, but once the mystery starts to unravel, it doesn't stop. Very fun read!
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The smile on my face after I finished this book…wow!

I loved this book so much! The main characters were well developed, the relationships within the family felt so real and loving and the way the author managed to weave different aspects of culture and story telling and strong family bonds with themes of magic and witchcraft was just SO BEAUTIFUL! I loved every single second of this!!!
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Thank you, NetGalley and HarperCollins Publishers for providing the advanced e-copy!

I always get drawn to horror books written for middle-grade children. It's interesting to see how authors create a thrilling atmosphere. 

First, I loved the relationships in the book, specifically the relationship between James and Ava. I loved the progression between the two of them as they tried to take down the mysterious Keeper. I loved how their differences created a stronger bond between them. I thought the dynamic was great and was pretty accurate in depicting the sibling relationship. In addition, I believed that McCall also skillfully described the emotions of the doubt of a young boy moving to a neighborhood he didn't know anything about. I did think that the book was a little slow in the beginning and I could do with more creepy descriptions. Sometimes, it felt like the scenes just came out of nowhere. 

Overall, this book did leave me guessing. I was trying to figure out who the keeper was all along, and I was definitely surprised by the ending. I liked how McCall brought in topics of her Mexican heritage throughout as well.
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This was such a fun and compelling read. When trying to describe it, I go back to Alyssa Cole's "When No One is Watching" but for tweens, mixed with a little bit of Tessa Gratton's  "Strange Grace". One might think it would be hard to tell a story like this for a middle grade audience, but this author does it flawlessly. There's a lot of family and friendship drama that balances the horror, inspired by the real life story of the New Jersey Watcher, well.

Speaking of, I loved the horror element of this book. Its a slow build, but once the mystery starts, it doesn't let up. The Watcher (all hail) is one of my favorite true crime stories, and the spin on it here is so clever and will appeal to my students who love spookier books. This is just the sort of book we're looking for for our collection and I can't wait to recommend to students, and maybe even adults who are hesitant to read horror (like me)!

Lastly, I loved the family dynamic in this. The way our main character, James, bonded with his sister was so sweet and relatable. The parents did drive me nuts a lot of the time, but the siblings were enough to win me over. I rooted for them all the way to the end. Overall, I really enjoyed this and can not wait to read more middle grade horror stories.
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I picked this book up because I love quality middle-grade horror. It's one of the genres that got me into reading as a child that I think still holds up to readers of older ages, and I have enjoyed reading many books of this kind as an adult either for pleasure or to screen for younger relatives/children of friends.

I DNF'd this book at about a third of the way through.

Firstly, the book skews toward the younger end of middle-grade, even toward elementary-aged children, and yet its pacing is much slower than I would expect for that prose. I struggled to maintain interest in the book as so much time is spent laboring over the thoughts of our main point-of-view character. Secondly, the book is (at least at the point of my stopping) not horror at all; perhaps 'spooky,' that newly trendy term, might be a better fit, but it's barely that either. Thirdly, the sibling dynamics (which should make or break a book of this kind) did not interest me at all. There is, in my opinion, nothing more boring to read about than a prank war, and these children do not even come up with particularly engaging or narratively relevant pranks. Finally, although the book purports to be about family, I found the parents complete non-entities who did essentially no parenting.

That said, there are some things this book does rather well, or that may intrigue certain audiences, which I think should be pointed out:

The book deals with the often confusing and conflicted feelings children may have around moving, the death of a grandparent, and sibling rivalry/love. The main character's feelings and thoughts aren't simple, and the book portrays that honestly.

The book does its best to teach the reader about some ancient indigenous (Maya and Aztec, primarily) mythologies in a way that is accessible to that audience.

The book's main characters speak both Spanish and English in a way that is accessible to monolingual readers while not pedantic to bilingual readers; it provides context clues for the Spanish spoken without othering or exoticizing the language. This is something I greatly admire and feel should be present in more books.

Overall, this book did not hold my attention or interest, but I believe it would be an excellent choice for a young (late elementary) reader with some interest in the ancient Americas but no desire for real scares.

A final note for the publisher: There are inconsistencies in the first chapters regarding James' possession of his cell phone (whether he is actively using it, not using it because it is out of battery, or not using it because it had been confiscated). This should be corrected before publication.
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What drew me to this book originally was that it's loosely based on the Westfield Watcher case. It's probably one of the weirdest unsolved crimes, and I'm absolutely fascinated by it. So I was excited to see how McCall was going to spin this case into a middle-grade book. Because even as an adult this case is super unnerving.

Huge props to this author for how she handled not only the case but the scare factor as well. While I'm always down for a book that creeps me right out. For a book that is targeting a younger reader, I think the scare factor is on point. This would have definitely been a book that I would read under the covers with my flashlight, and then regret as every single nose in my house kept me up that night. And, while McCall doesn't deep dive into this case, I did like how she weaved through the story. Just enough that if you an adult reading this book you have to send you straight down a Google rabbit hole. But, enough that the kids will find it super creepy.

McCall also hit on my favorite tropes in any magic set book, and that is magic with consequences. None of this comes from being free and to protect their town, they have to make a great sacrifice. Only it doesn't stop there, once the magic goes wrong, there are also consequences to that as well. I like a magic system that is given and taken instead of what just is. For me, that kind of magic is more tangible, especially for a story like this when the magic is tied to the land.

I also adore the setting of this story. Not only is my neck of the woods so it's easy for me to picture this little town in Oregan, but it fits the story perfectly. There's something about Oregon and Washington that fits that creepy little town where somebody is up to something hinky. So setting here was perfect, and I'm also a sucker for a young adult and middle grade just moved in trope. That always adds to the creepy factor, not really knowing your surroundings. Absolutely perfect.

And while the first-person point of view isn't really my favorite, it really works for The Keepers. This way we're seeing all of this through James' eyes, and while he isn't the most reliable narrator because he was at ten. McCall writes in a way that you really feel who scared James gets throughout the book, who lonely he is at this movie, and just unsure of himself after losing his grandmother and being uprooted. It's hard not to adore him, and it was so amazing to see him find himself and work with his sister to survive this story. 

The other great thing about this book is having McCall put her own heritage into this book, it added great depth to the book. Made you see these characters as a family, and that heritage helped James and his sister fight back against the Keeper and its minions. I loved it. 

This book was everything I wanted and a little more. It definitely applied to my younger self, and I'm so glad to see this weird case be used in such a great way.
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James and Ava move from Texas to a small town in Oregon with their parents. The parents are thrilled, especially since the mother has a job as a professor, and they have a big house in a beautiful area. Even the neighbors are super nice, starting a fire and stocking the fridge with groceries before they arrive. James misses his friends and the Texas sun, and is still grieving the death of his beloved grandmother (Ita) and feels somehow that the move is not honoring her memory and disconnecting him from his Mexican-American roots. He goes back and forth between arguing with his parents and feeling bad that he's not being a good kid. He also has an irritating relationship with Ava, where they play annoying pranks on each other. He puts her doll in the Crock Pot; she fills his baseball glove with petroleum jelly. They also fight over their dog, Baxter. When James gets weird letters from someone signed "The Keeper", he thinks it is another of Ava's pranks. The tension of this mystery builds until creepy neighbors
Strengths: Well, I guess I can't take cookies to new neighbors any more! James anger and sadness at being relocated, his troubled relationship with his sister, and his distrust of the neighbors set the scene well for a surprising turn of events that speaks to many of our worst nightmares. It's hard to write a review, because I don't want to spoil any of that. The Mexican-American culture was interesting, and there was a lot of Spanish mixed in, which was interesting when James and Ava used it with the new children they meet who didn't share their background. I did enjoy the fact that after a bumpy start, the neighborhood kids were nice and invited James to play baseball with them. I also really liked the parents, with their movie nights and their high expectations for behaviour. The horror part of this was quite well done. 
Weaknesses: The scary parts were good, but came a bit late. I wish that the cover were a bit different. Maybe just the house, without the kids? 
What I really think: This was someone similar to Ockler's The Smashed Man of Dread End or Lawrence's The Stitchers, or even Ellen Oh's Spirit Hunters. I really liked the use of local legends and the Mexican-American culture, but I wish this had gotten to the well-written horror scenes much sooner. I've reached the point in the school year that I don't have any money left in the budget, so will have to think about purchasing this for next year.

Leila Roy at Bookshelves of Doom loved this one a LOT, and she's a better judge of horror than I am. 
https://bkshelvesofdoom.substack.com/p/middle-grade-folk-horror
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James, a twelve year old super star baseball player, and his younger sister Ava, a science geek,  have recently moved from Texas to Oregon where their parents have taken new jobs. They have left behind family and best friends, but not their Mexican American roots which are firmly grounded in the videos their grandmother recorded for them before her death. The new neighborhood is a bit overly friendly, and baking cookies seems to be a past time among the adults. As for Ava and James, they continue their never ending sibling prank wars, much to the consternation of their parents, until the day they realize someone else is pranking them. The woods around the neighborhood are creepy, letters appear from the Keeper,  and a strange older man is suspicious. Their  new home is beautiful, but it has a history, as does the neighborhood where nothing bad seems to happen. This is the perfect book for middle graders who need a bump up from “Goosebumps”,  with horror slowly overshadowing the realism. The voice of each character is distinctive--Ava being the analytic science nerd, and James playing her baseball loving brother. Mom is the well organized college professor, and dad is the upbeat computer scientist, and when their children try to explain that they are not doing the pranking, the parents don't believe them. Highly recommend.
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The Keeper is about a pair of siblings who have just moved to Oregon from Texas. The brother Jamie, is having trouble adjusting to his new neighborhood but as soon as he starts to feel  more at home he begins receiving creepy letters from someone calling themselves "The Keeper". Jamie and his sister Ava must work together to solve the mystery of who in the neighborhood is threatening them. 5th, 6th, and 7th graders are likely to enjoy this books the most. Jamie is a likable main character and the writing style is engaging. I do feel that the ending gets a bit messy and feels tonally different than the rest of the book but overall it's a good option for kids who love mystery books.
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I didn't realize (or remember that is) that this story is inspired by the "Westfield Watcher". Two siblings, James and Ava move with their parents from Texas to Oregon.  They find the town welcoming- maybe too much so.  A creepy letter arrives warning James that he is being watched. Because he and his sister often prank each other, their parents do not believe that they are in danger. I love the parts where James listens to the tapes from his grandmother who has recently passed away.  I wished the author kept the grandmother alive and in the story more.  This is a creepy read and I enjoyed most of it. I only found the ending weak. I guess I was expecting something more like an evil presence or fantastical being.  Thank you, Harper Collins and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book.
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I was excited to read this when I saw it was based on true events, as I recognized the event from a podcast I had listened to previously.  In this middle grades book, the author took the idea of a "watcher" and changed it to a "keeper".  In the true event, the family never found out who was sending them letters or if it was an elaborate hoax.  In the Keeper, there is a very spooky resolution, along with a family of resourceful children, neighbors who are not what they seem to be, and a town that follows the phases of the moon closely.

The story started off very innocently with a family that is new to town and a series of pranks.  The pranks turn sinister in the second half of the novel and the mystery unfolded wonderfully.  I felt like I was reading an episode of the 90's TV Show "Are You Afraid of the Dark".  It was awesome to find a book that didn't have to go to any extremes of gore or gross-out material but still had a spooky side that would appeal to tweens, teens and even adults like me.

This will be a big hit with my students who love scary stories.
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I received this book for free for an honest review from netgalley #netgalley
Spooky cute story perfect for her the fall season! Great morals and a sweet storyline.
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Great horror novel for libraries and classrooms with plenty of thrills and chills to satisfy any horror reader.
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Garcia McCall crafts a tale just spooky enough for a younger MG crowd. The story will keep readers guessing until the last page. Recommended for libraries and classrooms looking to expand their spooky middle grade offerings.
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This was a very fun middle grade, though the 'real world' case it's based on is rather chilling, even (or especially?) for adults. It definitely trends younger middle grade, despite the main character's slightly older age, with an opening emphasis on sibling prank wars and self-correcting 'bratty' behavior. As a white lady, I can't fully say whether the Latinx representation was well done, though it seemed so for the most part. (I will say that the use of Spanish seemed more aimed at non-Spanish or at least non-fluent speakers, rather than native speakers.)
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