“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.”
It’s a beautiful start to a deeply poetic book.
Poetic, yes. Enthralling, no. To be honest, I almost didn’t finish it. Unlike many of the Newbery books, I not only didn’t read it all in one sitting, but it took me a couple of weeks to get through. The poeticism was just a bit much for me. Of course, I was also unable to get through Walden, A Tale of Two Cities, and every philosophy book that I have ever bothered to pick up. So there may be a precedent for this that has nothing to do with the actual quality of the book.
However, I still have to admit that The Underneath just dragged a bit. There’s a lot more waiting than action. The cat in question is abandoned on the edge of the bayou, where she hears the also lonely bay of an old hound dog who has been chained underneath the house by his abusive owner. When the cat has kittens, and the kittens start wondering about the world outside the underneath, well, as they say, “curiosity killed the cat.” The kittens and the hound dog have to figure out how to find the ones they love, and how to survive in a tough world where nothing comes easy.
Louis Sachar blurbed The Underneath and his description is terribly complimentary. He describes it as: “A mysterious and magical story, poetic yet loaded with suspense.” All of these adjectives are true. And yet I didn’t love it.
For the sake of those who DO read poetry well, I’ve noted below some of the other awards this book won in addition to the Newbery Honor. If that’s your style, you should try this book. If you’re a sadly shallow reader (as I apparently am), you might as well just admit that to yourself and go read The Hunger Games. You’ll love it.
The Underneath, by Kathi Appelt
Newbery Honor – 2009; National Book Award Finalist; Pen USA Award
A.R. Level: 5.2; Middle Grades