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Keeper of the Night

Written by Kimberly Willis HoltAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Kimberly Willis Holt
Read by Vivian B. McLaughlinAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Vivian B. McLaughlin

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Read by Vivian B. McLaughlin
On Sale: April 08, 2003
ISBN: 978-0-8072-1572-2
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

“In a series of exquisitely presented snapshots, a young teen struggles to cope with the aftermath of her mother’s suicide. . . . Stunningly beautiful.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred

“Readers are drawn into Isabel’s world and her determination to keep on going in the face of her overwhelming loss and responsibilities.”—School Library Journal, Starred

An ALA Best Book for Young Adults

A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

A Kirkus Reviews Editor’s Choice

A Parents’ Choice Gold Award


From the Paperback edition.

Excerpt

A Dutiful Daughter


My mother died praying on her knees. Her rosary beads were still in her hands when we found her. She left no note, said no good-byes, gave no last hugs or kisses. Only the empty bottle of sleeping pills that had rolled under her bed proved that she'd meant to leave.
I found her first. But I didn't know she was dead. I thought she was praying.
That morning, I eased her door shut, tied on her apron, and made breakfast for my little brother and sister. I felt proud to scramble their eggs and butter their toast.
Later I tied blue ribbons in Olivia's hair and dipped the comb into a glass of water before parting Frank's. I had no idea it was the first of many mornings I'd be doing that.


Tamuning


After my mother died, my father couldn't bear to look at the front door of our home. I overheard Tata tell my mother's older sister, Auntie Bernadette, that he saw my mother's ghost standing by the door. That's why we're staying with Tata's sister, Auntie Minerva, in Tamuning.
"Just for a little while, Isabel," Tata told me the day we moved here, but it's been five long months. I asked Tata why we couldn't stay with Auntie Bernadette in Malesso. She lives a few houses away from us. But Tata said, "Bernadette is . . . was your mother's sister. Not mine."
Tamuning is north of Malesso. Stores and restaurants line the streets. All night long, I lie in bed and smell spicy scents from the Thai restaurant across the road. I hear cars pass on the highway. Sometimes a siren whines, reminding me of the morning the ambulance carried my mother away.
We're stupid staying in Tamuning while our lives take place in Malesso. Everyone we know lives there--Auntie Bernadette and Uncle Fernando, my friends, our dogs. Our store is there, Frank's school, and my father's boat. We're like clubs trying to be hearts in a stack of cards.


Rides to St. Cletus


Each weekday morning, before the sun rises, Tata slips out of Auntie Minerva's house and heads to Malesso to feed our dogs and spend the day fishing. Later, Auntie Bernadette drives from Malesso to pick us up for school because Auntie Minerva claims she's too busy with the church. Before taking Frank to the public school, Auntie Bernadette drops us off at St. Cletus in Talofofo.
This is Olivia's first year at St. Cletus. She's in second grade, and my father believes when girls get old enough to notice boys, it's good for them to be surrounded by nuns. I'm in eighth grade. The nuns can't stop me from looking.
Auntie Bernadette has no kids of her own and is old enough to be my grandmother. Even though she was born with a crippled hand, she's one of the most respected suruhanas on Guam. Auntie heals aches and pains and helps barren women become pregnant. She drives with her right hand, or, as she calls it, her good one. As if the other hand that stays folded, pressed against her chest, is the bad one.
Auntie Bernadette talks the entire way to Talofofo, and in the afternoon she picks us up and talks the entire way back to Auntie Minerva's house.
Olivia likes Auntie's talk because she gets to hear about how Mrs. Cruz's daughter is going to have a baby, but no husband, how Mrs. Santos spent her entire paycheck at bingo, how Roman's mom poured a pitcher of water on Roman's hungover dad and he just rolled over and peed on the couch. Olivia knows more gossip than any seven-year-old at St. Cletus.
One day I tried to remember what my mother said during our daily trips to and from school, but I couldn't remember a single word. My mother lived in a world of her own--a world filled with sadness that I couldn't see.


Sh-sh


My school friends, Delia and Tonya, are back to their normal selves, gossiping about Lola, passing notes in class, sneaking bites of dried squid. But, after my mother died, whenever I approached, one of them would quit talking and say, "Sh-sh."
Even the nuns stopped whispering to each other when I walked by. Sister Agnes nudged Sister Rachel and their bodies straightened. "Hafa adai, Isabel."
Sh-sh. So many secrets. Don't they know there's nothing they can tell me about my mother's death?
Unless they know why she left.


Evaporate


Whenever I think of my mother, something fills up inside me, like water filling a bucket. It fills me up so much, I'm afraid my feelings will spill over for everyone to see. So I close my eyes and picture the water in the bucket evaporating until nothing is left, not one single drop.


Monday's List


1. Get up
2. Draw Olivia's bathwater and wake Olivia
3. Hide Olivia's nightgown and wet towels
4. Make sofa bed
5. Get ready for school
6. Remind Frank to comb his hair
7. School
8. Clean bathroom and vacuum
9. Homework
10. Eat dinner
11. Finish homework
12. Read until lights-out


Techa


Auntie Minerva is a techa. To be chosen a techa, you must know the rosary in Chamorro. Most people my age understand a few Chamorro words like Hafa adai, but English is our main language. Even though she lives in Tamuning, Auntie Minerva grew up in Malesso, so she leads the rosary for most of our village's dead. She said the rosary, each of the nine evenings, for my mother.
"I knew the rosary by heart since I was eight," she tells us for the millionth time.
Of course, Auntie Minerva doesn't perform the rosary every day, but she finds reasons to go to church. Usually to light a candle and pray for someone. Tonight she lifts her muumuu and shows me the bruises on her knobby knees. "This afternoon I prayed for six hours straight," she says. "But my suffering is nothing like our Savior's."
When Auntie Minerva isn't fasting, she barely eats. Twice I caught her spitting food into a napkin; she's afraid to put some meat on those bones. I've seen the way she shakes her head, studying Auntie Bernadette's full hips.
It's been almost six months since we came to Auntie Minerva's house. Every couple of weeks I ask Tata when we will go home.
"Soon," he always says. But he never looks in my eyes when he says it.
After Auntie Minerva's tasteless dinner tonight, I ask Tata again. And when he answers the same thing, I tell him, "You always say that. Are we going to live here forever? Why can't we go home?"
Tata glares at me. "We will go when I say so."
I should know better. Tata always does as he pleases, never minding anyone else's feelings. When I was younger, I pretended I wanted to fish so I could be near him, but he never asked me along. And when he returned from the sea, he claimed he was tired. He was never too tired to drink beer in the cabana with his friends almost every night. Frank was the one he spent time with, but that changed when Frank became afraid of the water.
Back then I liked going to Mass because he went, too, and we sat on the pew together like a real family. But Tata hasn't been to Mass since my mother died.
Sometimes I get angry when I watch television programs that show fathers who take their kids to the movies, play basketball with them in driveways, and give great advice. I don't know any dads like that.


From the Paperback edition.
Kimberly Willis Holt

About Kimberly Willis Holt

Kimberly Willis Holt - Keeper of the Night

Photo © Fuqua Photography, Inc.

“I’m amazed how the tiniest moments grow into books.”—Kimberly Willis Holt


Kimberly Willis Holt’s first novel, My Louisiana Sky, was an ALA Notable Book and an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults. It also received a Boston Globe—Horn Book Honor Award. Her second novel, When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, won the National Book Award. She is also the author of Keeper of the Night.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Kimberly Willis Holt considers herself a southerner, but in reality she is a child of the world. Seven generations of her family are from the piney woods of central Louisiana, but her father’s military career caused her to call a different place home every couple of years. Some of her father’s assignments included France and Guam.

“Richard Peck once said that I wrote to find home. I think he’s right.”

As a child, Holt daydreamed a lot and struggled in school. She was thinking up stories while she should have been listening to the teacher.

After college, she had several different careers including radio news director, marketing a water park, and working as a terrible interior decorator. Finally she decided to pursue her secret dream to be a writer. She wrote short fiction, and worked on her first novel My Louisiana Sky.

“Although I sometimes enjoy writing from an adult’s perspective, I feel dedicated to the coming of age story-that part of a young person’s life where he must make a decision that will change his life forever. I still remember what it’s like to be twelve years old.”

Holt pulls a lot from her own experiences. “I’m amazed how the tiniest moments grow into books,” she says. The seeds of When Zachary Beaver Came to Town were planted when she was thirteen and visited the Louisiana State Fair. There she paid two dollars to see “the fattest teenage boy in the world.”

In 1999, Holt won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for When Zachary Beaver Came To Town, but she says the biggest reward was that this book proved the magic of rewriting. “I struggled with that first draft,” she explains, “and at one time I even thought of giving up on the book. I remember the exact moment where the story started to come together. Then the joy of revision took over.”

Holt claims that sometimes she’s just as surprised as the reader when something happens to one of her characters. “When I begin to write a story, I usually know how things will end. It’s the journey toward that point I must discover. The process is sometimes painful, but also exciting. I hope the wonder of what happens to my characters never goes away. That yearning keeps me writing.”


Born: Pensacola, Florida (during a hurricane)

Currently home: Amarillo, Texas

Previous jobs: Directing radio news, marketing, and decorating

Hobbies: Reading and going to the movies and theater

Inspiration for writing: Memories from childhood

Favorite books: To Kill a Mockingbird and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter


A CONVERSATION WITH KIMBERLY WILLIS HOLT
Q. You spent time in Guam as a child. What was the inspiration for this particular story?
A. When I returned as an adult to visit the schools on Guam, I learned that a former classmate had committed suicide the prior year. A mutual friend told me that she'd died praying on her knees. I couldn't shake that image. And it was that image that led me to Isabel's story. At first, I thought her story was going to be one among several in a short-story collection. But as I wrote I had to know that she would be okay. That required the space of a novel.

Q. Why did you decide to tell this story through short passages?
A. I've always loved the idea of writing a book with short chapters. However, in the past when I've tried to do so, it seemed forced. With Keeper of the Night, the spare form came naturally. It was a refreshing departure for me, and that in itself was rewarding. Part of the satisfaction I get as a writer is knowing I can explore different ways to tell a story. As far as difficulties are concerned, I encountered the same challenges I do when I write in a more traditional form. Did I tell the story well enough? Do the characters have depth?

Q. Do you have a favorite passage?
A. Usually my favorite passages are not my readers' favorites. In Keeper there is a chapter where Isabel's father takes her to the diving team tryouts. Later he tells her about her uncle who was a great diver. Isabel thinks that is her father's way of telling her she wasn't that great. Then her father says, "You must have gotten your talent from him." That part still chokes me up, because no matter how old I am, I want my parents to be proud of me. It's funny, one of my sisters said that's the part that got to her the most.
I was most intimidated to write about Frank being found after he cut himself. I dreaded writing that scene. I didn't want it to be melodramatic. So I chose to write it in short clips, like a photographer taking fast snapshots of an event. Originally, I did it that way just to get some words down, thinking that I'd go back to it. Ultimately, I chose to leave it as it was.

Q. Many of the scenes and people in the book feel very detailed and authentic. Do you write from real-life observations?
A. My writing is like making gumbo–a little of this, a little of that mixed together. Some of those people were inspired by bits of people whom I met on the island; many details I made up. The oddest thing is, after spending so much time with the story, I couldn't tell you what is true and what isn't. I like to think the best fiction becomes its own truth.

Q. You thank many people in your acknowledgments. What kind of preparation did you do to write this book?
A. Six months after the trip to Guam during which I visited the schools, I had to return to do research. I spoke to many people on the island, spent time in the library, and tried to soak up the setting. Later, I depended greatly on several people for answers via e-mail. Because suicide and self-mutilation were part of the story, I interviewed the director of the suicide crisis center in Amarillo, Texas, as well as making contact with a Guam crisis center counselor.

Q. Do you like to get a lot of feedback as you write?
A. My daughter is the only person allowed to read (or I should say hear) my first drafts. I try not to let anyone else read anything earlier than the seventh draft. The reason is that I'm still figuring out the story and the characters in early drafts. I don't want other people to influence me at that organic stage.

Q. How long does it take you to write a book? 

A. I'll give the answer that I heard Bruce Coville give: all my life. Technically, it takes about one year to two years, but how can you discount a writer's entire life experience? That is truly a part of every story.

Q. Any advice for writers who have great story ideas but just can’t seem to get them down on paper?
A. If you are meant to be a writer, you will put it down on paper even if it means you have to write a lousy first draft. If not, maybe you aren't meant to write that story. Or maybe it's not the right time to write that story. Or maybe you are meant to do something else.

Q. As a writer, what is your greatest fear?
A.
Boring the reader.

Q. Isabel must grow up fast in this story and seems exceptionally mature for her age. Why did you want to tell the story from her perspective?
A. Isabel is a firstborn child, as am I. But I didn't choose to tell it from her point of view. She chose me.

Q. In response to a loved one’s suicide, are there typical stages a person goes through?
A. I'm certainly not an expert on this subject, but my research, which included talking to survivors of suicide, indicated that the stages that Isabel goes through are typical. The sadness, the anger, the trying to figure out why it happened. One thing the suicide crisis director told me was that the survivor has to find something of her own to help her get on with living. For Isabel, that is the diving.

Q. What is your response to stress?

A. I'm afraid I'm not good at handling stress. Thank goodness, I married someone who is. Although I do think I am good at handling big difficulties. It's the small ones that I find most challenging. I guess you could say I sweat the small stuff.

Q. Are you a list maker like Isabel? 
A.
Yes, I feel most secure with my lists. This drove my mother crazy because my dad was a list maker too. And he even made lists for her. 

Q. One theme that emerges from the book has to do with asking for (or not knowing how to ask for) help from other people. Why does Isabel struggle alone until the last part of the book?

A. I believe it's because she is a firstborn and thinks it is a weakness to ask for help. Tata's neglecting to deal with his wife's death plays a huge role in this family's lack of communication. One thing the crisis counselor from Guam told me was that when a Chamorro wife dies, the father goes on with his life and the grandmother or auntie steps in and tries to fill the mother's role. The counselor said Guam was very much a matriarchal society.

Q. Isabel is very much afraid to let the bucket of her emotions spill over. What do you think she fears will happen?

A. Tata is not holding the family together. Isabel feels that someone must, and that someone is her. I think Isabel believes she must stay strong, and that means not releasing her emotions.

Q. What do you like best about being a writer?
A.
I get to wear my pajamas to work.


PRAISE

MY LOUISIANA SKY
“Making an unusually auspicious debut, Holt offers a unique coming-of-age tale . . . readers . . . will admire [Tiger’s] courage, loyalty and love for her parents.”–Publisher Weekly, Starred

“Holt . . . eases the action along with a low-key, unpretentious plot . . . uncannily credible characters.”–The Horn Book Magazine, Starred

“Tiger has a distinctive voice, and her subtle observations include an increasing awareness of those marginalized by difference of class, race, and intelligence.”–The Bulletin, Recommended


WHEN ZACHARY BEAVER CAME TO TOWN
“As in her first novel, My Louisiana Sky, Holt humanizes the outsider without sentimentality. . . . Holt reveals the freak in all of us, and the power of redemption.”–Booklist, Starred

“In her down-to-earth, people-smart way, Holt offers a gift.”–The Horn Book Magazine, Starred

  • Keeper of the Night by Kimberly Willis Holt
  • April 08, 2003
  • Juvenile Fiction; Family & Relationships
  • Listening Library (Audio)
  • $12.95
  • 9780807215722

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