I LOVE THIS BOOK! I read it several years ago and still think about it. It would definitely be near the very top of my list of favorite books I have ever read --not just favorite books for students, but favorite all-time books.
I thought it was downright creepy at times because of the swamp and a very frightening and unexpected character. I have chills just thinking about it now! You will both love and hate the characters. The story actually takes place in several time periods, but the author brings the stories together and in a way that is unexpected. Let me just say this about "The Underneath": there aren't many books that you never forget ... "The Underneath" is one of those unforgettable books for me. In fact, I just may read it AGAIN as you read it, for I have my own copy at home.
Memory is a slippery thing. When something terrible happens to you, like the loss of someone you love...memory can turn into a soft blanket that hides you from the loss. (from "The Underneath")
Kathi Appelt reading from her novel, "The Underneath"
an interview with the author about "The Underneath"
The Underneath was your first novel, and it’s by no means a straightforward one. It’s layered, complex, delicately twined. Did you set out to write it as such, with multiple strands of stories braided together, or did the project change and grow throughout the writing process?
It started out as a short story that I had written about a boy who rescues a cat from a creek. It was based on a true event, when my son Jacob discovered an abandoned kitten in a park where we were camping, when he was about nine years old. I had a photo of him on my desk, holding that kitten, and it served as a reminder while I worked my way through the pages.
The thing is, it was actually fine just as a short story. In fact, I still have it in a file somewhere. But I kept thinking that there was more to it. It just felt like there were stories within that story that were waiting to be uncovered.
Altogether, it took over three years and about 30 drafts to finish it. In fact, that’s about what it takes for all my novels. I keep thinking that I should be getting better at this, but nope. Three years, thirty drafts seems about right.
There is a wonderful passage in The Underneath that reads, “Humans are designed to be with other humans…They need each other’s laughter. They require each other’s sorrows. They are made to swim and cook and hunt and gossip together. Mostly, they need each other’s stories, stories of love and wisdom and mirth.” With this in mind, what is it about animals’ stories that particularly attract you? What do you think readers can learn from being made to empathize with animal characters?
Of course, animal characters are basically humans in animal skins, aren’t they? For them to work, they have to have human thoughts, human feelings, human ideas. But that’s not completely true, is it, because an animal character still has to have what I call the ish factor. That is, a bear character, while basically endowed with human emotions and feelings, still has to be bear-ish. Likewise, no one would buy a kitten character that didn’t resemble a toddler, but they really wouldn’t buy one that wasn’t kitten-ish.
When I think about The Underneath, the characters, of course, leap to mind – Ranger, Puck, Gar Face, Grandmother. But the setting in which these characters’ stories unfold has remained in my memory and imagination perhaps even more strongly. Can you talk about the importance of place for you as a storyteller?
I’m so glad you mentioned that. For me, there are three major things that inspire us, and they all begin with the letter P: People. Places. Pets. Those are the three major things that we hang our hearts on. And more and more, I’ve realized that Place creates the solid foundation for the story to both emerge and realize itself. Place has the ability to organize the story in that it gives us a landscape for specific sounds, obstacles, animal and human populations, flora and fauna, weather, even laws, economics, and traditions. Place a character in a fully realized place, and it gives you an immediate way to enter into what and how the characters will respond.
Over the course of the next ten years, The Underneath is certain to reach and resonate with many, many more readers. What do you hope they take away from your story?
My hope has always been that readers will see, in the twin stories of Ranger and Gar Face, that they can always, no matter how difficult their own stories are, make a good choice. Even in the face of darkness, they can turn their own faces toward the light.