The Underneath

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, a 2009 Newbery Honor Book, is a powerful book not to be missed.

Ranger, a neglected dog, lives under the deck of a tilting house in the middle of a Louisiana swamp.  His owner known as Gar Face is an outcast in society.  He banished Ranger for coming between him and a kill and Ranger has been chained ever since.

One day a mother cat (herself abandoned) wanders in the swamp and finds Ranger.  They become quick friends and companions.  She soon has two kittens, a boy and a girl named Puck and Sabine.

They work together to raise the kittens.  She hunts and shares with Ranger.  Ranger guards the kitties.

One day Gar Face sees the cats.  He captures Puck and the mother cat and throws them into the swamp where only Puck survives.  Alone and frightened, Puck does his best to survive.

Meanwhile, we learn about an ancient creature known as Grandmother Moccasin who herself is a water moccasin.  She has been entombed in a clay jar buried under an ancient tree for a thousand years.  Her story is interwoven with the three animal’s.  We learn she was banished because she was selfish and wanted her daughter for herself whom had chosen to leave Grandmother and cleave to her husband.  Another ancient creature, the Alligator King, himself as old as she toys with Gar Face as Gar Face becomes obsessed with killing him.

Through hardships and more misfortunes the three-some end up together at the end.  Grandmother Moccasin chooses love over all else.  And love binds the three friends together.

This is a heartfelt book that had me close to tears many times.  It’s the classic story of how love conquers all but applied to animals in a very realistic manner.  Promises are broken and the consequences are deadly.  Gar Face is filled with hate.  Happiness is as mystical and fragile as a glass ornament.  Heartfelt and moving, this book is a page-turner not to be missed.

Warning for those with young children: it may not be appropriate as it deals with heavy themes.  The mother kitten dies.  The dog is abused.  Grandmother’s daughter pines away and dies when she is separated from her husband.  And Gar Face is eaten by the Alligator King.  Love definitely endures, but it is not sugar-coated as in real life.