I finished The Underneath (2008) by Kathi Appelt over the weekend. I am not sure what to say about it. The first thought I had was "why would anyone write this book?" It is a young readers/juvenile fiction book and a finalist for the National Book Award, and I wonder why? I would not want my child to read it. I stopped reading several times, but I did pick it up again. When I read about the book I knew there would be some cruelty but I was not prepared for how much I received.
A mother cat is dumped off by her owners because she is going to have kittens. The mother cat is befriended by a hound dog that has been chained to the corner of a falling down bayou shack to be an "alarm" because he is not good for anything else in his cruel master's opinion. The dog is starved, beaten, and has not been off the chain for years. The kittens are born under the shack in The Underneath where they are sheltered and protected by the unique alliance between the cat and dog. This is a lesson in diversity and family that is not as well written as it could be and gets loss in a lesson of both the thoughtless and intentional cruelty of people towards animals. The dog's owner is a victim of his mother's desertion and his father's drunken abuse. He is a monster, there is no humanity left in him. He cares nothing for any life. All ends well, well, as well as can be expected. It is a horrific journey. The thoughts of the animals and the conversations between the animals were well written, that and the second story line kept me reading.
The second story line involves a 100 foot alligator, a 1000 year old grandmother snake, her shape-changing daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter. This mythic and mystical story, at times, is better written than the cat/dog story line. The switching back and forth of the story lines sometimes helps to move the story along and sometimes hinders it. I would have enjoyed reading a more developed version of this mystic tale and its prehistoric peoples.
I did not like this book, mostly because of the cruelty to the animals - I could not get past that to appreciate the book as a whole.