Book Review: Keep Her by Leora Krygier

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I was super thrilled to receive an ARC of Leora Krygier’s latest YA book, Keep Her, which is due out in September this year! (Note: though I received this ARC as a complimentary copy from the author, all opinions stated below in this review are entirely my own). Leora Krygier is an author, traveller, photographer and former LA juvenile court judge, and I knew that a book by such a variegated soul was going to be something really interesting.

Keep Her is the sweet, poignant tale of two lost souls who come across each other when a water main bursts in the middle of a hot LA summer. Aiden is a young filmmaker struggling with the decision of whether to keep his baby daughter while smart, creative Maddie is hoping to get into art school in New York. They’re immediately drawn to each other, but Aiden’s dilemma will continue to lie as a point of contention between them – Maddie herself is an adoptee, struggling to come to terms with the fact that her biological parents did not want her. Will Aiden’s eventual decision create a rift between them that will threaten their relationship?

Intertwined with Maddie and Aiden’s story are letters Aiden wrote to his (deceased) brother Alex while aboard a Greenpeace anti-whaling ship. Anti-whaling activism is  a pretty familiar subject for me, living in Western Australia where Sea Shepherd vessels are often docked at Fremantle Port before setting sail on missions such as the one Aiden was on! It was intriguing to read Aiden’s letters as he documents the training the anti-whaling activists must undergo and what exactly occurs when they confront a Japanese whaling ship. (The bitter cold of the Southern Ocean is a sharp contrast to the heat the characters are enduring back in LA). And running through Aiden’s letters are further hints of the moral quandaries he faces, including that which involves Alex’s death.

They say that authors should never make things easy for their characters and Krygier does exactly that here. I found myself flipping pages, holding my breath, wondering just what Maddie and Aiden were going to do when faced with their various dilemmas. I found myself sympathising with the difficulties they must face and the decisions they must make. And – I’m not going to lie – I pretty much bawled my eyes out toward the end, particularly at two points – 1) when Maddie makes an unexpected and heartbreaking discovery, and 2) when truth comes to light about the circumstances surrounding Alex’s death. I shed quarts of tears, particularly when it came to the latter. Losing someone is never easy – and it’s something I’ve had firsthand experience of pretty recently. Krygier perfectly encapsulates all the resulting emotional struggle that comes with losing a loved one – the guilt, the loss, the anger, the sadness. One particular sentence which Aiden writes to Alex struck a deep chord within me – But I could feel you, and it hit me, in my dream, that the absence of something, of someone, can be more tangible than something that exists in the physical world.

Cue many tears.

But things are not all sadness and gloom in Keep Her. There are sweet quiet moments of joy and love, happiness and hope strung throughout the book, like beacons of light along a coastline, guiding ships safely back to harbour and home. (The last sentence, I think, is a perfect description of Keep Her!) Above all, Krygier reminds us that people are complex, imperfect beings who are just as capable of committing unexpected acts of love and selflessness as they are of making mistakes. There are no villains here, just ordinary individuals who are trying to do the best they can, and I think all readers, no matter how different they are, will find something or someone to identify with in Keep Her. 

Note: There are also more tidbits for the reader if you hop onto Krygier’s website. There, one can find the very same letters Aiden wrote to his brother (handwritten! on scraps of official ship documents!), photos that Maddie would have taken in the middle of that broiling summer (who knew there was a real Twain’s restaurant?!?) and even maps that chart Maddie and Aiden’s story. I always love it when an author website provides a few fun extras about their books because it makes you feel so much closer to the characters and their stories!

I really enjoyed reading Keep Her,  and I think it’s one book I would like to read again and again because I think it’s the sort of story where new information and new understandings will come to light upon further re-reads. Keep Her is the kind of book you would like to take your time over, while lying on the grass in the warm sunshine, unpicking and savouring emotions and secrets.

Keep Her is due out in September 2016. In the meantime, stay tuned for an interview coming soon with Leora Krygier in which she tells us a little bit more about Keep Her and her writing journey!

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